ISTANBUL - Just days after the announcement of a European Union-Turkey refugee deal, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the bloc, saying it could not be trusted. His main concern is the commitment for visa-free travel for Turks through the EU.
Under the terms of the EU-Turkey agreement, migrants who illegally cross the Aegean and enter Greece from Turkey would be sent back to Turkey. In exchange, Turks would be granted visa-free travel through the EU as early as June, as long as Ankara complies with certain EU conditions.
But Erdogan is increasing pressure on Brussels to honor its commitment and questioning the sincerity of the 28-member group.
He said that if Turkey looks to the past from the perspective of values, it can see EU leaders never keep their words and will not do so this time.
Erdogan observers say officials are aware of how controversial visa-free travel is, especially for several EU members. France has made clear its opposition and voiced alarm at the prospect of nearly 80 million Turks being able to freely enter EU countries.
Adding to those concerns say analysts, is that many of the two million Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey could ultimately become citizens of that country. But to achieve visa-free travel Ankara has to comply with 72 EU standards.
Unrealistic, observers say
Political scientist Cengiz Aktar said that requirement remains an unrealistic goal.
"I have serious doubts that all 28 members would agree on lifting visas for Turkey in June - because Turkey did not comply with the 72 conditions. It seems very difficult it will manage to do so. Only manipulators and naives are taking this deal very seriously. It is a propaganda occasion for the government, because of course, it is very rewarding to announce to Turkish public, that visas will be lifted in June," Aktar said.
Ankara is working hard to comply with the conditions. Among them, a pilot project that calls for introducing biometric identity cards, which is expected to be followed by a requirement for biometric passports. Political consultant Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners said achieving visa-free travel is crucial for Erdogan’s political aspirations.
"He wants visa-free travel, which is very important to his constituents because most of the visa rejections are among constituents. If he can do that, he will present it as a result of Turkish pressure or Turkish lobbying and he will hit the campaign trail for executive presidency again," Yesilada said.
Erdogan is seeking to increase his power by turning Turkey into an executive presidency, which critics warn will be akin to a dictatorship. Analysts say he is close to securing the required votes in parliament and a referendum would likely be held to confirm a new constitution later this year.