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24 Jun, 2016 11:36

Erdogan threatens to hold EU bid referendum unless Turkey gets visa-free travel

Erdogan threatens to hold EU bid referendum unless Turkey gets visa-free travel

Turkey has once again warned it will hold a referendum on whether to press on for EU accession, unless there is progress in negotiations on vise-free travel with the bloc.

"We [get] our power from the nation. If the EU negotiation process [does not move forward], as President Erdogan tried to say, then we may ask the public whether we should continue negotiations," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara on Thursday.

"But we believe that common sense will dominate the meetings," Cavusoglu added. "We want to continue our way with the EU, especially in the visa-free travel deal, we want something that is our right."

On Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened the EU, noting that Britain's Brexit vote could prompt Turkey to hold a referendum on the accession bid. The Turkish president said Ankara has been waiting since 1963 to join the Union, despite the fact it didn’t exist at the time.

Erdogan's comments came as the head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker reminded Turkey that in order to join the visa-free regime, Turkey must fulfill all 72 EU-mandated conditions.

"If Erdogan seriously tries to get out of the agreement on refugees, then it will be his job to explain to the Turks why they cannot travel to Europe without a visa," Juncker said Wednesday in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"If Turkey meets all of the 72 conditions for lifting the visa requirement, which we have formulated together, then there will be no reason to refuse their citizen's visa-free travel," Juncker added.

A new phase in Ankara's negotiations to join the bloc will take place on June 30, when Turkish and EU officials meet to discuss the “financial and budgetary provisions” Turkey must meet to become a member.

Firing back at Juncker, Erdogan once again threatened the EU to unleash a refugee flood, as around three million migrants now live in Turkey.

"You do not know the Turkish people. These people are not after traveling without visas. It is you who is concerned about what would happen if Turkey opens its doors and all the refugees will go to Europe[…]. At the same time, we take care of the refugees. Why? Because we care about people, unlike you. You don't care about anything like that,” Erdogan said.

The deal between Turkey and the EU was signed in March. Brussels pledged to pay €6 billion grant visa-free travel to Turkish nationals and speed up EU accession talks with Ankara. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take back all illegal refugees from Greece and allow a certain number of asylum seekers to travel to the EU legally.

The EU insists that the deal respects the refugee laws. However, critics say Brussels is turning a blind eye to the state of the Turkish refugee system and Ankara’s sometimes abusive policies toward refugees.