ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday he believes Turkey and the European Union can come to an agreement on a key Turkish demand to ease visa restrictions for Turkish citizens traveling to Europe.
Turkey had threatened to scrap a pivotal deal with the EU on stemming the flow of migrants heading from Turkey to Europe if the EU failed to fulfill by October a promise to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel as well as deliver funds to help improve conditions for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Plans to loosen visa rules came to a standstill after Turkey balked at softening its anti-terrorism laws, part of a list of criteria the country is required to fulfill by the EU. Turkey has said it cannot amend terrorism laws while it is facing increased security threats. EU countries want to ensure Turkey cannot use those laws to target academics and journalists.
The EU-Turkey migrant deal was instrumental in stemming the flow of people heading from Turkey to the nearby Greek islands.
During a joint news conference with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, Cavusoglu said Turkey has suggested a set of alternative proposals for its anti-terrorism laws, including one where Turkey will work in cooperation with the Council of Europe. He said “a common understanding” between Ankara and Brussels is starting to emerge.
Cavusoglu said Turkey and the EU have to work out a “concrete road map” on implementing the visa-free travel deal but added: “I believe that with this understanding we will overcome the problem.”
Hahn also said a deal was possible. “I think the timing depends on our Turkish colleagues but it should be possible to find the solution,” he said.
Hahn dismissed criticism from Turkey that the EU was setting criteria to impede Turkey’s efforts to join the EU or be awarded visa-free travel.
“It’s about aligning gradually our candidate countries with European standards and particularly in the area of the rule of law,” he said.
The Turkish minister reiterated Turkey’s demand that the delivery of funds to help refugees be accelerated, saying “this should not be locked up by red tape; more practical steps need to be taken.”
But Hahn said the EU would have contracted an overall amount of 1 billion euros on projects by the end of the month. He said the EU has already dispensed 180 million euros in cash to NGOs and other institutions.
The commissioner added that the EU will sign a 300-million-euro deal with Turkey’s education ministry later this month to help with the schooling of Syrian children.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week accused the EU of failing to deliver the promised funds.
Associated Press writer Menelaos Hadjicostis in Istanbul contributed.