Migrants sit after disembarking from a merchant ship in the Sicilian harbour of Augusta, Italy, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Tony Gentile(reuters_tickers)
By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Council chief Donald Tusk told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday that the bloc can discuss money to secure Ankara's help on migration but its values and freedom of expression are non-negotiable.
A recent European Parliament report criticised the record of Turkey, a candidate for EU membership, on human rights and media freedom.
Ankara also gave Berlin a headache this month by logging a legal complaint against a German comedian who recited a sexually crude satirical poem about Erdogan on television.
"Recent experience with Turkey shows Europe must set clear limits to its concessions," said President Tusk in an editorial published by seven European papers on the eve of his visit to the country, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans.
"We can negotiate money but never our values. We cannot impose our standards on the rest of the world. Equally, others cannot impose their standards on us.
"Our freedoms, including freedom of expression, will not be part of political bargaining with any partner. This message must also be heard by President Erdogan."
The three European politicians will travel on Saturday to the Turkish city of Gaziantep near the border with Syria where a five-year war has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced many more, triggering a mass influx of refugees and migrants to Europe.
Overwhelmed by the uncontrollable arrivals, Brussels struck a deal with Ankara last month.
It promised Turkey financial rewards and visa liberalisation and revived EU accession talks in exchange for Ankara taking back migrants who reach Greek islands from its shores, and ensuring fewer embark on the journey across the Aegean Sea.
Ankara, though, has since threatened to walk away from the deal if the EU does not ease travel requirements by June, and has also complained the 28-nation bloc has been too slow in disbursing aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey worth an initial 3 billion euros (£2.3 billion).
Brussels aims to propose waiving visas for Turks on May 4 but that is strongly opposed by some EU member states. Ankara now meets just under than half of the 72 conditions for visa-free access.
While arrivals from Turkey to Greece have fallen since the deal was implemented, questions over effectiveness, legality and long-term viability of the agreement linger.
A Merkel aide said the German chancellor would use Saturday's trip to try to ease tensions.
Separately, the International Organization for Migration said on Friday that the number of migrants arriving in Greece had started to rise again.
"We are under no illusion that the problem is solved. We are facing months, perhaps years of efforts and difficult choices," said Tusk.
However, he said that any cooperation with Turkey must be lawful and protect EU member state Cyprus, which is locked in a decades-old dispute with Turkey.
(Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Tony Jimenez)