Credit Pool photo by Murat Cetinmuhurdar
ISTANBUL — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan angrily threatened on Friday to open the floodgates of migrants into Europe again, apparently in response to a move to suspend talks on Turkey’s membership in the European Union.
“You did not keep your word,” the president said in a speech here, addressing Europe.
“You cried out when 50,000 refugees were at the Kapikule border,” he said, referring to the border crossing with Bulgaria, one of the busiest in the world even in normal times. “You started asking what you would do if Turkey would open the gates. Look at me — if you go further, those border gates will be open. You should know that.”
Mr. Erdogan was referring to an agreement between Turkey and the European Union in which the bloc gives Turkey up to €6 billion (about $ 6.3 billion) through 2018 in exchange for Turkish cooperation on keeping migrants from crossing into Europe. The agreement mandated an acceleration of talks on Turkey’s joining the union, which the European Parliament voted on Thursday to suspend. While the vote was nonbinding, Mr. Erdogan made clear that he was angered by it.
The agreement has been broadly successful in reducing much of the refugee and migrant flow into Europe this year, with crossings from Turkey dropping below 100 a day recently, compared with 2,000 a day before the agreement, which was signed last March.
In 2015, three quarters of a million refugees passed through Turkey on the way to Europe. The United Nations estimates the number of refugees in Turkey at 2.7 million, with some estimates going much higher. The vast majority of them are Syrians displaced by their country’s bitter war.
Mr. Erdogan reminded his listeners, part of an international women’s meeting, of Alan Kurdi, the Iraqi Kurdish toddler whose body was found washed up on a Turkish beach after his family failed to reach Greece by boat, and of Omran Daqneesh, the 5-year-old Syrian boy photographed with his face covered in dust and apparently shellshocked after his home was bombed.
“You did not pick up Baby Alan when he washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean,” he said. “You did not pick up babies like Omran. We are the ones feeding in this country three million, 3.5 million refugees. You did not keep your promises.”
So far, €677 million has been disbursed to Turkey under the agreement on migrants, with hundreds of millions more in the pipeline. But other aspects of the agreement, particularly visa-free travel for Turks in Europe and the return of migrants from Europe in return for resettlement of refugees from Turkey, remain unresolved.
Although he did not explicitly say so, Mr. Erdogan’s remarks suggested that Turkey might cancel the agreement and allow migrant flows to resume into Europe as before if the bloc went further in finally suspending formal talks on Turkey’s accession to the union. Those talks have dragged on for 11 years now, causing great anger within Turkey.
Officials in Europe were quick to insist that the agreement was still in effect. “We consider the E.U.-Turkey agreement as a common success,” a German spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, said at a news conference after Mr. Erdogan’s remarks. “Threats from both sides will not help now. If there are problems, we must address them. As I have said, this agreement is in the interest of all.”
In Brussels, European Union authorities continued to work with their Turkish counterparts on carrying out the agreement. “We are fully committed to the application of that E.U.-Turkey agreement,” Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesman for the European Commission, said at a news conference on Friday. The commission, which is the bloc’s executive body, expects Europe and Turkey to remain “committed to implementing their respective obligations,” Mr. Schinas said.
Not only was the European Parliament’s vote on Thursday on suspending talks nonbinding, there also seems to be little support for such a move among the countries that would have to approve a suspension.
However, if Turkey makes good on threats to restore capital punishment, that would effectively end its hope of joining the bloc, since abolition of the death penalty is a requirement for membership.
On Friday, at a second public meeting, Mr. Erdogan repeated his pledge to approve the death penalty, despite opposition in Europe, if the Turkish parliament votes in favor of it.