BELGRADE – Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz has said the EU should not be “blackmailed” by Turkey over the migrant deal. following demands by the Turkish foreign minister that Turks be given visa-free access to the Schengen zone by October, or the deal will be called off.

The EU-Turkey migrant deal was designed to encourage Ankara to stem the flow of migrants into Europe in return for visa-free access for its citizens to the EU Schengen area.

“We must not give in to blackmailing and we do not need a Plan B, but a decent Plan A. We need a strong Europe that protects its own external borders. Those who travel illegally to Europe must be brought to islands at the external border and sent back to centers in safe third countries, rather than come in to Central Europe,” Kurz told German magazine Focus.

The EU-Turkey migrant deal originally agreed in March 2016, was brokered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an attempt to stop the flow of migrants reaching Europe via Turkey and the Aegean Sea.

Under the deal, The EU was due to pay Turkey — initially — US$3.95 billion to bolster its refugee camps and accept “irregular” migrants denied asylum in Greece in return — on a one-for-one basis — for Syrian refugees in Turkey being relocated in the EU.

However, as part of the deal, the EU was supposed to grant Turkish citizens visa-free access to the EU by the end of July and accelerate its accession to becoming a full member of the EU. That date has now — it appears — slipped back to October, according to the Turkish foreign ministry.

The deal was already in trouble over Erdogan’s increasing grip on power, crackdown on opposition parties and the media as well as criticism of his human rights record.

Since the attempted coup, however, his massive suppression of those associated with the coup — the judiciary, the military and the police — has been the cause of deep skepticism within the EU.

If Turkey fails to meet the basic benchmarks on democracy and human rights required by the EU, the visa-free travel deal will be abandoned and — with it — the whole migrant deal, once again leading to another flood of migrants crossing into Europe.