BERLIN (AA) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday dismissed concerns over the EU-Turkey refugee agreement, adding that Ankara might need more time to fulfill criteria for visa liberalization as part of the deal.
Addressing a press conference after her cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Merkel renewed Germany’s commitment to the deal, and said the EU Commission and Turkish officials will hold talks to discuss differences on benchmarks for visa liberalization.
“I am not worried, rather we might need some more time to address some of the questions,” she said.
“But in any case, in principle we stand behind our agreement,” she added.
Her remarks came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sharply criticized the EU for demanding change in Turkey’s anti-terror legislation in exchange for visa liberalization and warned about the future of EU-Turkey cooperation in addressing the refugee crisis.
Merkel, who faces widespread criticism in Germany for her open-door policy for refugees, and close cooperation with Ankara in addressing the refugee crisis, expressed hope for overcoming the remaining differences.
“I assume that both sides are ready for further talks, that was my impression,” she said, referring to her meeting with Erdogan in Istanbul on Monday.
Germany last year faced the biggest refugee influx since World War II and accepted more than 1 million refugees, most of them Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan.
But since the EU-Turkey deal went into effect in late March, Germany has seen a sharp decline in refugee numbers.
The EU-Turkey deal aims to discourage irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The deal also allows for the acceleration of Turkey’s EU membership bid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area, on the condition that Ankara meets 72 requirements set by the EU.
While Turkey has fulfilled most of the criteria, differences between Brussels and Ankara on anti-terror legislation have forestalled the visa liberalization, previously expected in June.
The EU is demanding changes to Turkey’s strict anti-terror legislation to avoid possible political asylum applications, but Ankara insists that due to the serious terrorism threat posed by the PKK, it will not make any changes.
The PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and the EU – resumed its 30-year armed campaign against the Turkish state in July 2015.
Since then, more than 460 members of the security forces, including troops, police officers, and village guards, have been martyred, and over 4,500 PKK terrorists killed in operations across Turkey and northern Iraq.