Thursday

13th May 2021

Migrant deal: MEPs sceptical over Turkey visa concessions

  • Istanbul's Ataturk airport. Visa liberalisation for Turkey might be proposed by the commission as early as May. (Photo: Ataturk airport)

MEPs have expressed scepticism at the fast pace of visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens, amid expectations that the process to lift visa requirements in return for help with migrants could begin in early May.

Lawmakers described the EU commission’s presentation on Turkey’s efforts to fulfil the benchmarks for visa-free travel to the passport-free Schengen zone as “over-optimistic”.

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In a first assessment of the implementation of last month's EU-Turkey agreement to manage the refugee crisis, published on Wednesday (20 April), the commission said that Turkey was doing what was expected.

“So far it goes well,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told journalists.

The commission has pledged that it will not water down the 72 criteria needed for the visa waiver, but has also suggested it will propose visa liberalisation in early May.

The final decision to grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens will be made by EU countries and has to be signed off by the European Parliament.

On Monday, Turkey warned that if visa-free travel was not introduced by the end of June, it would not stick to its part of the deal.

'Blackmail exercise'

At a hearing Thursday morning, EU commission official Marta Cygan told MEPs in the civil liberties committee that fulfilment of requirements was “quite advanced”, but that Turkish authorities still needed to tackle several issues.

Ankara has to start issuing biometric travel documents that include the fingerprints of the holder, and share information on forged documents with EU states.

Cygan reminded MEPs that 11 states still needed visas to enter Turkey, saying these requirements must be lifted.

Turkish authorities also need to bring in line several rules with EU law and European standards on human trafficking, cyber-crime, anti-corruption and anti-discrimination.

Sophia in 't Veld from the liberal ALDE group said she was in favour of visa liberalisation, but the commission’s approach was wrong.

“We are mixing things up. We do get the impression that we are selling out a little bit here,” she said adding that the Turkish government was engaging in a “blackmail exercise”.

She said: “I don't understand why all of the sudden everything is possible, why wasn’t it possible a year ago?”

She added that the criteria should not be watered down for Turkey, as it would set a precedent.

Barbara Spinelli, an MEP with the left-wing GUE group, said the language used by the commission suggested they believed they were “living in the best possible worlds”, as in Voltaire’s Candide, an 18th century satire on optimism.

“There are wars going on,” she reminded MEPs, adding that the commission’s assessment on Turkey was over-optimistic.

Cygan defended the commission’s line, saying the methodology of visa liberalisation had not changed and the criteria had not been relaxed, but she added that the visa issue had now become an element of the general relations with Turkey.

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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.

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