EU expects Turkey to honour migrant agreement

Syrian migrants at Turkish coastguard station after being caught crossing to Greece

BRUSSELS - The EU expects Turkey to honour a key migrant return accord which Ankara has threatened to ditch amid a bitter dispute with the bloc, a European Commission spokesman said Thursday.
"We remain committed to the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement ... this is an engagement of mutual trust and delivery and we expect that both sides will comply with their commitments," Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu threatened Wednesday to scrap the March 2016 agreement as Ankara blasted Germany and the Netherlands with vicious Nazi jibes for preventing Turkish ministers attending rallies and criticising its rights record.
"We can stop (the deal) unilaterally ... From now on, we can say 'we will not apply it and it will be over'," Cavusoglu said in a 24 TV interview.
Under the accord, Turkey cracked down on massive migrant flows, mainly of Syrians fleeing the country's bloody conflict, in exchange for some 3.0 billion euros in aid, visa free travel and the speeding up of Ankara's long stalled EU accession talks.
But Cavusoglu said there had been no progress on visa-free travel and Ankara accordingly had stopped taking back migrants who had made it to the Greek islands, a key element of the deal.
"Right now we are not implementing the readmission agreement as there is no visa-free travel," he said.
EU relations with Turkey have long been strained over its human rights record but the situation has deteriorated badly since a failed July coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In response, Erdogan launched a massive crackdown and is campaigning for increased powers in a referendum next month which has only strained ties further.
He sent ministers to Europe to canvas for a yes vote at rallies of Turkish migrants, notably in the Netherlands and Germany, causing dismay in both countries.
Erdogan has repeatedly accused the Netherlands and Germany of behaving like "Nazis" and said Wednesday the "spirit of fascism" was running rampant in Europe.