BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union said Thursday that Turkey has made virtually no progress on meeting conditions to earn visa-free travel for its citizens, a key part of their deal to prevent refugees reaching Europe.
"Seven benchmarks remain to be met by Turkey," the European Commission said. It's the same number as in the last progress report published in September.
Turkey has demanded visa waiver status this year, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to open the floodgates for migrants to leave if the EU reneges on its promises.
The European Commission insists that it's up to Turkey to respect conditions that both sides have agreed upon.
A main sticking point is the requirement for Turkey to change its terrorism definitions so that journalists and Erdogan opponents aren't locked up indiscriminately.
But with bombings by the Islamic State group and Kurdish separatists a regular occurrence, Turkey's government can't afford to give any impression that it might be watering down anti-terror laws.
Still, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said both sides "are continuing, in an engaged and committed dialogue, to find solutions on all remaining benchmarks."
After the announcement, Turkey's presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, expressed regret that by the end of 2016 the EU hadn't delivered on its promise to deliver 3 billion euros in aid for Syrian refugees and lift the visa requirement for Turkish citizens.
But the European Commission says that 677 million euros ($723 million) have flowed into Turkey to help it manage almost 3 million Syrian refugees who are sheltering there, and that a total of 1.3 billion euros has been "contracted" with Turkey. The EU has promised 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) by the end of next year, and a further 3 billion from 2018 if the first tranche is spent correctly.
Thursday's progress report means that Turkey is unlikely to be granted the visa waiver this year, and is certain to further ratchet up public tensions between Ankara and Brussels.
It's something the Europeans don't need since migrant arrivals to the Greek islands now average 90 per day, compared to thousands daily last year.
Sensitivities about the issue are high in Turkey, which has also been promised billions of euros for Syrian refugees on its territory and fast-track EU membership talks to stop refugees leaving and take back thousands more already in Greece.
When the European Parliament called last month for a freeze on accession talks, Erdogan said his country was being betrayed, even though the assembly has absolutely no legal say over the issue.
"If you go any further, those border gates will be opened," Erdogan warned.
Dominique Soguel in Istanbul contributed to this report.