Sunday

29th May 2022

Turkey edges closer to EU visa-free travel

  • Istanbul: Fast-track procedure is part of EU-Turkey migrant deal (Photo: Remon Rijper)

The European Commission said on Wednesday (20 April) it would propose to give visa-free access to the passport-free Schengen area to Turkey on 4 May, if Ankara fulfills all the necessary benchmarks.

In its first assessment of the progress made under the EU-Turkey deal aimed at returning migrants from Greece, the EU commission said it would present its third report on the progress made by Turkey to fulfill requirements on 4 May, and could propose to grant visa-free travel.

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  • Avramopoulos said progress has been made in implementing the migrate returns (Photo: European Commission)

It means Turkey would have to fulfill all the 72 criteria for visa-free travel for its citizens within two weeks before the Commission can make such a proposal.

Under the deal, the EU has committed to accelerate the visa liberalisation process in exchange for Turkey’s help to stop the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe.

EU leaders pledged to aim at lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016 if all the benchmarks are met.

At the time of the last progress report in March, Turkey had lived up to 35 requirements, and, EU officials said, since then, more of them have been settled.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told press Wednesday if the work continues at its current pace, most benchmarks will be met.

“So far it goes well,” he said.

EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday in a speech that the requirements for Turkey will not be watered down.

Juncker’s statement came a day after Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey would no longer honour the EU-Turkey accord if the EU failed to ease visa requirements by June.

Juncker and Davutoglu met privately on Tuesday, where, EU officials said, the EU commission chief passed on a list of measures still needed to be sorted out by Ankara. According to officials, Davutoglu seemed confident they can deliver on time.

Outstanding requirements are for example the issuing of passports that include the fingerprints of the document holder (biometric passports), allowing visa-free access Turkey for all EU citizens, engaging in police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters with EU countries, officials pointed out.

Political consensus needed

After the commission’s proposal the council of EU member states and the European Parliament still need to give their consent to the visa-free regime.

For years, several EU countries, such as France and Germany, have been reluctant to allow visa-free travel for the 75 million Turkish citizens, fearing increased migration.

But with the pledge made by EU leaders in March to sign off the visa liberalisation if Turkey fulfills the technical requirements, officials say member states will have to agree.

“Visa liberalisation for Turkey is something that was envisaged a year and a half from now, it was a conscious decision taken by the EU side to bring the date closer,” said one EU official, adding that it will be nevertheless a difficult political exercise.

“It’s not a mathematical exercise, where we just tick the boxes,” he added.

But major reservations remain.

“The 72 criteria are not enough, there still needs to be a political consensus among the 28 member states,” another EU official insisted.

Progress

Since the deal came into force on 20 March, so far 325 irregular migrants arriving to Greece have been returned to Turkey, but most of them have not requested asylum.

On concerns that Greek authorities will not be able to cope with processing the asylum requests fast enough to avoid a build-up on the islands, Avramopoulos said: “We are at the beginning of the process.”

“Greek authorities on the ground doing exactly this, to avoid this phenomenon,” he added.

The commission’s report said Greece set up accelerated procedures for the processing of asylum claims.

So far 103 Syrian refugees have been resettled to the EU directly from Turkey, according to the report.

EU-Turkey deal gets reality check

The EU-Turkey deal that came into force on Sunday has not deterred migrants crossing the Aegean sea on its first day. But it raises many questions as Greek and Turkish legal frameworks still need to be set up.

Turkish PM issues EU visa ultimatum

Turkey wants guarantees visas will be lifted on its nationals in the passport-free Schengen zone by June or it won't stick to its side of the agreement in the EU-Turkey migration deal.

Top MEP: EU 'must ensure visa waivers can be halted'

Manfred Weber, leader of the conservative MEP bloc, urges the EU to ensure it can suspend visa-waiver schemes, as the commission moves closer to recommending visa-free travel for Turkey.

EU says Turkey almost ready for visa-free access

First visa-free Turkish visitors to EU possible on 1 July if Turkey meets five more criteria on time. Most Turkish people to face long wait for EU-compliant biometric passports.

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