European Commission gives conditional approval to visa-free travel deal with Turkey

By bne IntelliNews May 4, 2016

The European Commission has given conditional backing for the relaxation of visa requirements for Turkey’s 80mn citizens as part of a key migrant deal, the EU executive said on May 4.

“The European Commission is today proposing to the European Parliament and Council of the European Union to lift the visa requirements for the citizens of Turkey, under the understanding that the Turkish authorities will fulfil, as a matter of urgency, the outstanding benchmarks of its Visa Liberalisation Roadmap”, the Commission said in a statement.

Visa-free travel has been one of the concessions Ankara hopes to win from the block under a controversial deal it struck with Brussels on March 18 after months of negotiations. Under the deal, Turkey agreed to take back all illegal asylum seekers from Greece. In return, the EU promised fast-track membership talks and easing of visa rules for Turkish citizens by June. Brussels also pledged €6bn in financial aid until 2018.

“Turkey has made impressive progress, particularly in recent weeks, on meeting the benchmarks of its visa liberalisation roadmap. There is still work to be done,” European Commission’s Vice President Frans Timmermans said.

The Turkish government must meet 72 conditions in order to get visa-free access to the Schengen area. The report adopted by the Commission on Turkey’s progress on the visa liberalisation roadmap identifies outstanding benchmarks that Ankara needs to meet in order to complete the remaining requirements, in areas such as the fight against corruption, data protection, judicial cooperation with EU member states, enhanced cooperation with EUROPOL and revision of the legislation and practices on terrorism.

“In order to meet a June deadline for adoption by the co-legislators, a Commission proposal to put Turkey on the visa-free list has to be tabled at the beginning of May to allow an eight-week period to elapse between a draft being made available to national parliaments and its adoption”, the EU executive said.

Turkey hopes the visa liberalisation agreement with the EU be completed by the end of June, EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir said when commenting on the Commission’s report. “We believe we have met all the conditions for the visa-free travel,” he added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have threatened Ankara will not implement the key migrant deal if the EU fails to keep its promises. Turkey hosts nearly 3mn refugees from Syria.

The migrant deal with Turkey is crucial for the EU to stop the influx of refugees. Since 2015 more than 1mn refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have entered the continent. Despite the European Commission’s backing for the deal with Ankara, many politicians in Europe still have deep concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey and question the legality of the deal.

 

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