Wednesday

22nd May 2019

EU advances Turkey visa deal amid migration fears

  • The visa-free deal is the main benefit of the EU-Turkey migrant accord as far as Turkish voters are concerned (Photo: Ataturk airport)

The European Commission will say this week that Turkey has broadly met conditions for visa-free travel, despite some missing elements.

The visa decision is the “cornerstone” of an EU deal to send back migrants to Turkey. But concerns over irregular migration are likely to see internal EU border checks kept in place.

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An EU source told EUobserver on Monday (2 May): “They [the commission] will issue a positive recommendation. But it remains to be seen what kind of legal formulas and tricks they will use to justify the move.”

Speaking to EUobserver from Turkey also on Monday, Sinan Ulgen the head of the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics, said: “The general understanding is that the commission will propose visa liberalisation even though Turkey has not met all the criteria.”

The commission had given Turkey a list of 72 benchmarks.

Among those that Turkey is supposed to implement by the end of June, when the visa perks are due to start, are revising anti-terrorism laws to protect minority rights and launching judicial cooperation with Cyprus, which Turkey does not recognise as a sovereign state.

Others include extending EU data-protection standards to its security services, increasing transparency of funding for political parties and giving Cypriot nationals free access to Turkey.

Ulgen said Cypriot judicial cooperation and counter-terrorism reforms would be the hardest in political terms, the latter “because it comes at a time when Turkey is facing a wave of terrorist attacks by the PKK and Islamic State.”

The PKK is a militant Kurdish group. Islamic State is a jihadist group based in Iraq and Syria.

Ulgen added that visa-free travel was a “cornerstone” of the migrant deal and said Ankara was serious when it said it would stop migrant readmissions unless it got the travel perks.

“The other components of the deal have to do with improving conditions for Syrians. But Syrians do not vote [in Turkey] and the visa agreement is the main benefit of the accord as far as Turkish people are concerned,” he said.

The commission recommendation must be approved by a majority of EU states and by MEPs.

It comes at a time of heightened sensitivity on immigration in Europe.

Manfred Weber, a senior German MEP, told the Reuters news agency: "There will be no refugee discount ... We'll look cool-headedly in parliament at whether Turkey has fulfilled the conditions for visa liberalisation.”

In a reflection of the mood, France and Germany have proposed to make it easier to suspend visa-free travel deals to the EU in future if they are abused.

But Selim Yenel, Turkey’s ambassador to the EU, told Reuters: “The Franco-German proposal aims at appeasing the possible fears of some EU nations and perhaps make it easier to win the support of some members states.”

Several EU states over the past six months introduced border checks inside the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone to regain control over irregular migration.

The temporary checks are to expire on 12 May.

EU commissioner Frans Timmermans told German radio on Sunday the EU needs to get back to normal on free movement.

But one day earlier, five EU states - Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden - asked the commission in a joint letter to extend the possibility of border checks for another six months.

They said, according to German daily Die Welt, that border control on the EU’s external frontiers had improved but there were “ongoing failures”.

Analysis

How the EU helped erode Turkish democracy

By neglecting Turkey for years and by failing to find its own solution on refugees the EU lost leverage on Turkey and finds itself played "like a yoyo" by its hardman leader.

EU warns Hungary over Afghan refugees

Budapest tried and failed last week to deport three families to Afghanistan, and is accused of denying food to others stuck in its transit zone. The European Commission says it is taking the allegations "quite seriously."

Analysis

Bell tolls for EU asylum reforms

The cornerstone the EU's asylum reforms referred to by the shorthand as 'Dublin' could end up in the scrapheap following the European elections in May.

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