ISTANBUL • President Tayyip Erdogan yesterday told the European Union (EU) that Turkey would not make changes to its terrorism laws required under a deal to curb migration, and declared: "We're going our way, you go yours."
His fiery speech will be a blow to any hope in European capitals that it might be business as usual with Turkey after Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who negotiated the migration deal with Europe and had largely delivered on Ankara's commitments so far, on Thursday announced he was standing down.
The EU asked member states on Wednesday to grant visa-free travel to Turks in return for Ankara stopping migrants reaching Europe, but said Turkey still had to change some laws first, including bringing its terrorism laws in line with EU standards.
"When Turkey is under attack from terrorist organisations and the powers that support them directly, or indirectly, the EU is telling us to change the law on terrorism," Mr Erdogan said in a speech at the opening of a local government office in the conservative Istanbul district of Eyup.
"They say 'I am going to abolish visas and this is the condition.' I'm sorry, we're going our way, you go yours. Agree with whoever you can agree," he said.
Mr Erdogan is aware that visa- free travel is, for many Turks, the biggest benefit of Ankara's deal with the EU.
Mr Davutoglu's departure will consolidate the power of Mr Erdogan, who has been highly critical of the EU in the past and who is seen in Brussels as a far tougher negotiating partner less closely wedded to Turkey's ambition of joining the EU in recent years.
To win visa-free travel for its citizens, Turkey must still meet five of 72 criteria the EU imposes on all states exempt from visas, one of which is narrowing its legal definition of terrorism.
Rights groups say Turkey has used broad anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent, including detaining journalists and academics critical of the government. But Ankara insists the laws are essential as it battles Kurdish militants at home and the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
A German government spokesman said Berlin expects Turkey to uphold the deal, which was pushed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and which she hopes will shore up support for her conservatives ahead of a federal election next year.
Mr Erdogan yesterday also defended as "natural" his involvement in domestic politics after the sudden announcement by Mr Davutoglu that he was stepping down.
"Some are disturbed by me monitoring closely the developments related to the party... What can be more natural than this?" said the President, who is supposed to be apolitical.
Mr Erdogan also said that a proposed presidential system, giving greater powers to the president, should be put to a referendum "as soon as possible".
A decision to pick Mr Davutoglu's replacement will be made at an extraordinary congress of the ruling AK Party on May 22.
Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, a close Erdogan ally, appears to be the President's current preference, three senior AKP officials said, although they said that could still change.
Government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, also Erdogan loyalists, have been touted, as has Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, Mr Erdogan's son-in-law, sources in the party have said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE