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Interview of H.E. Mr. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to News Agency of the Slovak Republic TASR, 29 May 2017

Çavuşoğlu: EU´s main problem is that it does not try to understand the others

The Minister says that Turkey has the right to suspend the migration agreement, if the EU does not grant visa-free travel to its citizens.

(TASR, 29 May 2017, by Monika Himpánová)

Bratislava, May 29 – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu wishes that the EU treated Turkey as an equal partner. According to him, the EU officials should finally make a decision and be honest with Turkey. If the EU does not grant visa-free travel to its citizens, the Minister says that Turkey has the right to suspend the migration agreement. In an interview for TASR at the GLOBSEC 2017 Bratislava Forum international security conference he also said that the EU should try to understand the feelings of Turks, the Turkish trauma, and why suddenly people have begun to demand the death penalty.

How would you assess the current relationship between Turkey and the EU?

The current relationship between the EU and Turkey is not at such level that we would imagine. We have applied for fully-fledged EU membership; we have also signed the agreement. We have to focus on the negotiations in order to open more chapters. Unfortunately, negative statements, rhetoric, double standards, increase in xenophobia, discrimination, intolerance and tendencies in Europe exacerbate mutual relations of the EU and Turkey. That is why we need to revitalize this process. Also for this reason, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with European officials Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and Antonio Tajani. It is no secret what we expect from Europe. We want it to treat Turkey as an equal partner and avoid double standards. We realize that Turkey has its homework and we have to do it, but at the same time the EU has its own tasks to fulfil.

Is in your view and in view of ordinary citizens Turkey's EU membership in the current situation still realistic?

It depends on the EU. The EU should offer us political decisions rather than technical ones. As I said, we are ready to open and discuss other chapters, to fulfil them. So it is not a technical problem. If the EU politically decides to accept Turkey as a full member, we can finalize this process in a short time. Let´s look at Montenegro. Over the course of three years they were able to open 28 chapters. In our situation, 14 chapters are blocked by the European Commission and some Member States. So there is a political barrier in front of us, not a technical one.

You say that it is the EU to decide. But your interest is also important. Even after those years are you still interested in EU membership?

Despite the fact that our citizens´ interest in EU membership is declining, the government is still interested, it is our strategic goal. However, what is more important for us is that the EU should decide. It cannot continue this way. We have decided to become members of the EU nearly 60 years ago. Many years before I was born.

How much time do you give the EU to decide?

We asked about it just at the NATO summit in Brussels. It is up to them. But it cannot continue this way. Some countries say that Turkey is important and should be a member of the EU, others that the process should be stopped, others that we should meet the criteria with which we have no problem. But there are countries which are categorically against Turkey´s EU membership. Unfortunately, they are not honest with us. When they are in their own countries they say something different than when they are in Brussels. When we meet them in public, they say something different than when we talk to them behind the closed door.

Since last year the migration agreement has been in force between Turkey and the EU. What will you do with this agreement, if the EU suspends your accession process and says that it does not want you in the EU?

The migration agreement has nothing to do with Turkey´s EU membership. These are two different issues. There are many challenges in Europe and we have to face the migration crisis together. One of them is unregulated migration. This is a problem that a Member State cannot face alone. We have to cooperate in this issue. We have proposed the EU to address this problem. Different alternatives were offered. We have chosen the most radical one, risky for Turkey, but we are aware that we have to solve this problem. We must stop the deaths of refugees. This is why we have come to an agreement. However, there are two other agreements tied with this agreement, which we signed in December 2013 - the readmission agreement, based on which Turkey will return any illegal migrant without any discrimination, and agreement on the liberalization of the visa regime. Turkish citizens deserve a visa-free regime. This is part of the agreement. Turkey has already fully implemented the agreement. The EU has fulfilled only one commitment – for every refugee which we return from Greece, the EU resettles Syrian refugees in the EU Member States. The Union has implemented this commitment successfully. But on the basis of this migration agreement, the EU should also start with the so called voluntary resettlement, when the number of illegal border crossings dramatically decreases or stabilizes on a satisfactory level. At the moment, we´ve had this crossing at the level of 99 percent since we signed the deal. So, voluntary resettlement must also be launched nowadays. Thirdly, the EU promised three billion Euros for Syrians by the end of 2016. Only 25 percent of the three billion have been reimbursed. And the EU promised another three billion by the end of 2018. We are now in mid-2017. Under the EU's migration agreement, the EU has also pledged to open further chapters with Turkey. So, this agreement has nothing to do with EU membership, only one aspect – opening of new chapters. If the EU does not grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens, we have the right to suspend the migration agreement which we signed last year in March.

So you want to say that you have fulfilled your promises and now it is the EU's turn.

Yes.

Do you accept only full membership, or - in other words – privileged membership is not sufficient for you?

We have signed an agreement that talks about full membership. If the EU prefers another alternative, it should be honest with us.

After the referendum, the question of the death penalty has also become one of the big questions. EU representatives have said that this question is inadmissible for them, the so called red line. What do you think of it?

The EU should try to understand the feelings of Turks and the trauma in Turkey. This is the main problem of the EU. It has never tried to understand others. They believe that they are the lords, they give the conditions, they threaten everyone, they always say take it or leave it. But they have to understand why people have suddenly begun to demand the death penalty. They did not even come to Ankara to understand our trauma. And when people ask for it, they threaten Turkey. Is there any parliamentary decision? Not yet. We have meetings in Turkey, when the President or I talk about it, people start screaming – death penalty, death penalty. We have the same problem at home. My wife was in favour of the death penalty, probably she still supports it. I'm trying to understand it. And the main reason is that in the past we have suffered a lot for terrorist attacks. It is not easy to fight terrorism in Turkey. We have lost nearly 40,000 people. (Referring to the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016) People went to streets, squares, airports in order to defeat different conspiracies. They saw how brutally people were killed, they saw how their own soldiers bombarded the Turkish nation with F-16 fighters, the Turkish Parliament with helicopters and tanks were attacking people directly. How can a human being attack humans with tanks? Therefore people have said that these cannot be human beings, they must be executed. These are the emotions of the Turks. And when there is such a demand, no politician can ignore it. Europe does not understand in what difficult situation we are. They give us the conditions, they threaten us. Come and talk to them. At the summit, European officials spoke about all these issues with President Erdogan, they understood what he had said to them. He said that it is up to the Turkish Parliament. If the Turkish Parliament changes the constitution, it comes to me. Why is the EU so concerned, why does it say that it is a "red line", or if you do this, we do this and punish you? The reactions and emotions of the Turks are growing. Instead of so many statements, they should come and talk directly with us. This is the way we prefer.