President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Friday to walk away from a deal that has substantially reduced the flow of migrants to the European Union and also effectively end Ankara’s membership bid by bringing back capital punishment.
Erdogan’s warning he could open Turkey’s borders to illegal migrants bound for Europe prompted an immediate objection from Germany that such “threats” were unhelpful.
Greece, which would face a heightened influx of migrants if Turkey made good its threat, also expressed “concern” at what it said would be “an act of aggression.”
The Turkish leader’s comments came a day after the European Parliament angered Ankara by backing a freeze of its EU accession talks, already hit by alarm over its crackdown in the wake of a failed coup in July.
“Listen to me. If you go any further, then the frontiers will be opened, bear that in mind,” Erdogan told the EU during a speech in Istanbul.
On March 18, Ankara and Brussels forged a deal for Turkey to halt the flow of migrants to Europe–an accord that has largely been successful in reducing numbers crossing the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just over 171,000 have crossed to Greece so far this year, much lower than the comparable figure for 2015 of almost 740,000.
Turkey agreed to step up maritime and land border controls in exchange for incentives on its long-stalled membership bid, including visa-free travel for its citizens and an acceleration of the accession talks.
However with an October target passing, no apparent progress on the visa issue and the accession talks stalled, Ankara has accused Brussels of failing to keep its side of the bargain.
Greece’s Deputy Defence Minister Dimitris Vitsas said that “using refugees and migrants to achieve other objectives (than those related to managing the influx) is an act of aggression”.
The European Parliament vote to freeze the accession talks reflected spiralling tensions with Ankara after Brussels repeatedly expressed alarm over the magnitude of Turkey’s crackdown after the coup attempts as well as the threats to bring back capital punishment.
Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, a hardliner on Turkey, said Europe should strengthen its own borders after Erdogan’s comments and “must not give into blackmail”.