The European Commission (EC) has once again rejected a Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria in a statement, emphasizing that Turkey must adhere to the foreign policy of the European Union if it sincerely wants to join the bloc.
“Joining the European Union requires all candidates to align themselves with the European Union foreign policy … in that context, if [EU candidate] Turkey is serious about its ambitions [to join the bloc], that is the path it must follow,” Reuters quoted a Commission spokeswoman as saying on Thursday.
The statement was in reference to Ankara’s military operation in northeastern Syria that began on Wednesday with air and ground attacks targeting Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Turkey sees as a terrorist threat on its border.
Ankara states that its main purpose in launching the offensive is to clear border areas of the YPG militia and create a “safe zone” where they can resettle some three million Syrian refugees who have come to Turkey due to an ongoing civil war in Syria that started in 2011.
The Turkish government designates YPG, a significant ally to the US in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), a terrorist organization linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency in the country for more than three decades.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday defended his country’s offensive in northeastern Syria, which drew worldwide condemnation mainly due to fears that the chaos caused by the fighting in the region could lay the basis for ISIS re-emergence.
During a speech to his party, Erdogan threatened the EU with an influx of 3.6 million refugees if the bloc labels his country’s operation in northeastern Syria as an “invasion”.
“Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,” the Turkish president said.
According to official data, there are currently 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, which has the highest number of refugees from the eight-year conflict.
As part of a deal with the EU on March 18, 2016, Turkey agreed to tighten controls on migrants trying to reach Europe in exchange for €3 billion from the EU aid and visa-free travel for its citizens but has frequently criticized the lack of assistance from Brussels.