ANKARA • A deal to grant Turks visa-free travel to most of the European Union (EU) is hanging by a thread after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defiantly vowed that Ankara would not fulfil a key condition set by Brussels.
The promise of visa-free travel is a key pillar of a landmark March accord for Turkey to stem the flow of migrants to the EU, and that could now also be in peril.
With alarm growing over the deal's future, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker bluntly told Mr Erdogan that Turks would enjoy travel to the passport-free Schengen area only if all conditions were met.
Ankara must still meet five out of 72 conditions the EU imposes on all states that are exempt from visas in return for political incentives, including billions of euros in aid from Brussels for refugees.
One of the conditions stipulates that Ankara has to narrow its legal definition of "terror" to prevent recent cases like the prosecution of academics and journalists for publishing "terror propaganda".
Mr Erdogan accused the EU of "hypocrisy" for telling Ankara to adapt its counter-terror laws as one of the conditions, while its military was in the throes of fighting Kurdistan Workers' Party rebels in the south-east. "The EU stands up and says 'soften your approach over the terrorist organisation'," he said in a speech in Ankara, referring to the rebels. "Since when are you running this country? Who has given you the authority?
"It believes it has a right for itself (to fight terror) but finds it a luxury and unacceptable for us. Let me say it clearly - this is called hypocrisy."
Mr Erdogan, who has sought to build closer relations with key Arab and Asian states during his presidency, said Turkey had alternatives to the EU. "In the period ahead of us, either we will develop our relations with the EU and finally get on this road or we will find a new road for ourselves."
Speaking in Berlin, Mr Juncker stood his ground, indicating that the EU saw no room for negotiation if Turkey did not fulfil all the conditions. "We consider that it is important for these conditions to be fulfilled, otherwise this deal between the EU and Turkey will not happen.
"If Mr Erdogan wants to pursue his strategy, then he has to answer to the Turkish people why Europe is denying free travel to Turks. That's not my problem, that will be his problem."
But not everyone will shed tears if the deal does not materialise. Doctors Without Borders yesterday slammed it as a "historic abdication" of Europe's moral and legal responsibilities.
The deal "effectively outsources caring for these people to Turkey", the medical charity's chief Joanne Liu said in an open letter to EU member states and institutions, and sends "a troubling signal to the rest of the world: countries can buy their way out of providing asylum".
A European diplomat said the EU does not "have a plan B" if the deal collapses.