An EU plan to extend visa-free travel privileges to Turkey by July 1 will have to be delayed amid concerns that Ankara will not meet key conditions of the deal in time, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel Monday.
Requirements for the deal have "not been able to be completed yet," she said at a press conference after the meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of a UN humanitarian summit in Istanbul.
Turkey has agreed to take back refugees who used its territory as a springboard for reaching Europe in exchange for the visa deal. But Europe has insisted that Turkey implement a series of reforms first.
"The questions I had in this connection have not been fully cleared up," she said.
A key sticking point is a controversial Turkish law on terrorism. The EU is pushing for Turkey to narrow its legal definition of terrorism, amid accusations that the law has been used to justify a crackdown on political opponents or journalists critical of the government.
But Erdogan has said such a change is not forthcoming. Furthermore, Turkish officials have hinted they would let migrants start crossing the Mediterranean for Europe again if a deal is not reached.
It is also not clear how critical the July 1 deadline is. Erdogan has said he wants a deal by October. Another concern is about who will shepherd the deal through on the Turkish side following the resignation this month of former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu after he clashed with Erdogan. Many in the EU had seen Davutoglu as their go-to person on the issue.
Merkel said she made it clear that the deal had hinged upon Turkey meeting 72 requirements laid out by the EU.
"Looking at the shape of things over the next few weeks, not all the requirements will be fulfilled if the terrorism law is not changed."
However, she said Erdogan told her he cannot foresee any alterations to the law.
"At any rate, we spoke very intensively, very openly and also with a lot of focus, noting that we have to take every effort to stay in talks, even if we can't foresee that certain things will not be in place by July 1 because the conditions have not been met."
Merkel also said she "made it very clear" that she saw a move last week to strip one-quarter of Turkish legislators - many of them from the Kurdish minority - of their legal immunity as "a reason for deep concern."