Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Despite talks with European Union leaders this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday he will keep Turkey’s borders with Europe open until the E.U. meets Turkey’s demands. The move allows migrants to pass through to Greece unhindered, in contravention of a 2016 agreement with the E.U.
“Until all Turkey’s expectations, including free movement ... updating of the customs union [to expand Turkish sectors covered by it] and financial assistance are tangibly met, we will continue the practice on our borders,” Erdogan said in a televised speech. He earlier also called for Turkey’s stalled process of acceding to the E.U. to resume.
Two weeks ago, Turkey opened the borders, prompting migrants to mass at the border with Greece, leading to clashes with Greek authorities.
Erdogan’s statement came two days after meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and E.U. Council president Charles Michel in Brussels.
Both E.U. leaders expressed a commitment to preserving the bloc’s migration agreement with Turkey but did not directly address Erdogan’s charges of E.U. non-compliance, only suggesting that both sides must work to meet their obligations.
“Both Turkey and the E.U. need to work on the full implementation of the E.U.-Turkey statement on migration to de-escalate the situation,” Michel tweeted, adding that the meeting had been “an important step in the right direction.”
“Migrants need support, Greece needs support, but also Turkey needs support,” von der Leyen told reporters after the meeting.
Erdogan did not stay behind for the press briefing, but instead headed directly to the airport.
The leaders of France and Germany are set to meet Erdogan in Turkey next week to continue dialogue on solving the crisis.
The E.U.-Turkey deal was brokered in the wake of the crisis of 2015, when more than one million migrants entered the union. Turkey had been flooded with refugees from the Syrian civil war. Today it hosts around 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
Under the agreement, Turkey agreed to take back migrants who were trying to enter the E.U. via Greece illegally. For every migrant returned to Turkey, the E.U. would resettle an approved asylum seeker.
The deal also included a financial aid package worth 6 billion euro ($6.8 billion), to be overseen by the E.U., E.U. visa liberalization for Turks, and a speeding up long-stalled E.U. accession talks.
While most of the financial aid has been provided, the E.U. has halted visa and membership talks, citing Turkish human rights violations and deficits in rule of law that do not align with European democratic values.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday leaving the borders open was not about money but a matter of principle – and pointed to the unresolved issues of visas and the acceleration of the E.U. accession process.
“It is clear that the E.U. has not particularly kept its promises to date,” he told the state-owned Anadolu news agency.
“Turkey needs the E.U., but the E.U. needs Turkey much more,” he added.
An E.U. official said that of the planned financial aid, 4.7 billion euros ($5.3 billion) has been contracted, and 3.2 billion euros ($3.6 billion) already disbursed. The remaining 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) have yet to be assigned to any project.
The official said the package has been “providing support to refugees in Turkey, not to Turkey [itself]. The projects are selected based on a needs assessment.”
“Funds will only be fully disbursed when all support has been delivered and all activities and projects completed,” the official said. “Focusing only on disbursed funds gives a distorted account of reality: what matters are activities effectively taking place on the ground to support refugees.”