The European Parliament will not deliberate on a proposal to grant Turkish citizens visa-free access to the European Union until Ankara changes its terrorism laws, officials said Tuesday.
The move could put at risk an agreement struck between the EU and Turkey on stemming migration flows to Europe. Turkey has repeatedly stressed that lifting EU visa requirements for its citizens is a cornerstone of that deal.
The European Commission made a proposal along those lines last week, but the visa liberalization now has to be approved by the parliament and a majority of EU member states before it can come into effect.
The legislature's political group leaders had already warned in a statement last Wednesday that they would not take up the matter until they receive a written guarantee that all conditions have been met.
Several group leaders on Tuesday tied this specifically to the terrorism reform, one of five benchmarks that Ankara must still meet before being granted visa-free access.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan irritated EU parliamentarians last week by pushing back against any narrowing of the definition of terrorism, which critics say has been used to crack down on political opponents and journalists critical of the government.
The leader of the largest faction in the parliament, the European People's Party (EPP), said that the major political groups are united in blocking any deliberations on the visa liberalization before Turkey implements all of the 72 prerequisite benchmarks.
"We are not demanding more than what was agreed under the pact [with Turkey]," EPP leader Manfred Weber told journalists Tuesday on the margins of the parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg, France.
Erdogan has to make clear that he too "stands by this agreement in its entirety," Weber added.
"Everybody is on the same line - we don't even start to discuss the file of the commission ... if first of all there is not a clear proof of the fact that the 72 conditions are met. That means that also the anti-terrorist legislation is changed in Turkey," added Guy Verhofstadt, who leads the Liberal group in the parliament.
"We can't accept threats and blackmail from Erdogan's Turkey in terms of safeguarding human rights," said Gianni Pittella, the leader of the legislature's Socialist faction. "If those benchmarks aren't there, then we can't start to talk."
Green leader Philippe Lamberts said he had his "doubts" about whether the visa liberalization proposal was even still "alive."
The parliament has repeatedly expressed concerns about the state of fundamental rights in Turkey, with the government often accused of infringing democratic freedoms.
EU lawmakers were further outraged by news on Monday that Erdogan is seeking to take legal action against the head of German media giant Axel Springer because he had hailed Jan Boehmermann, a German comedian who recited an explicit poem lampooning Erdogan.
Turkey has demanded that Boehmermann be prosecuted. A lawyer for Erdogan said on Monday in Cologne that the Turkish leader has also requested an injunction against Axel Springer chief executive Mathias Doepfner, who publicly called Boehmermann's poem "priceless" and said he had "laughed out loud."
"It's even forbidden to laugh in the EU, apparently," Verhofstadt said. "I think it's a form of harassment what we are seeing for the moment."