ISTANBUL - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday lashed out at the European Union for dragging its feet in releasing promised funds for Syrian refugees as well as providing visa-free travel for Turks into the passport-free Schengen zone.
Turkey and the EU signed a controversial deal in March, in which Ankara agreed to take back Syrian migrants landing on Greek islands in return for several incentives including 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in funds and visa-free travel.
“Europe has not yet lived up to its promises,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
“[EU funds] will not go into our budget but will be spent on refugees. There’s nothing on the visa issue either,” he added.
“When we say this out loud, the gentlemen [in the EU] get very uncomfortable. Pardon me — but this is no slave country.”
Turkey’s ties with the European Union have strained after Erdogan’s massive purge of plotters of the July 15 coup attempt.
Turkish authorities have detained around 18,000 people over the coup which Ankara blames on the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, with the crackdown sparking warnings from Brussels that its EU membership bid may be in danger.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Monday that Ankara could withdraw from the accord if Europe failed to allow visa-free travel for Turks by October.
His comments were rejected by Germany, which spearheaded the agreement with Ankara after Berlin let in a record 1.1 million migrants and refugees last year.
EU officials have also insisted there was never any intention of handing the funds directly into the Turkish budget and they needed to be spent specifically on projects for Syrian refugees.
Asked if Turkey could “blackmail” the EU over the refugee pact, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Rheinische Post newspaper: “That is absurd.”
The Turkish president said on Tuesday that his country had not taken any step that would trouble Europe on the migrant crisis.
“Let me speak clearly, we have protected Europe. We are hosting three million refugees.”
Germany | News | 2016-08-05 | afp.com