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21st Feb 2024

Merkel casts doubt on Turkey visa-free travel

German chancellor Angela Merkel has cast doubt over whether Turkey could meet conditions on time to be granted visa free travel to the passport-free Schengen area.

"It is likely that by 1 July, certain things won't be put in place. In other words, the visa exemption [will not be granted], as some conditions will not have been fulfilled," Merkel said on Monday (23 May) after meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul.

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"I said clearly that the path towards the removal of the visa demand is based on 72 points which are not new and were presented in December 2013 by the European Union," she was quoted as saying by AFP.

An acceleration of visa liberalisation was one of the perks offered by the EU to Turkey in exhange for helping to halt the flow of migrants into the bloc.

The EU wants Turkey to revamp its anti-terror law that it says could be used to silence opposition and jouralists.

Erdogan has ruled out changes to the anti-terror law, one of the benchmarks for visa free travel to be granted. He also hinted earlier that the benchmarks could be met by October, rather than July.

The European Parliament has already said it would not start working on visa liberalisation until all the criteria are met, putting into doubt whether visa-free travel could be granted by July as foreseen under the EU-Turkey migration deal.

Merkel has also raised the issue of Turkey's decision to lift the immunity of most of Kurdish lawmakers, paving the way for prosecutions.

"Of course, the lifting of the immunity of one quarter of the deputies is a source of deep concern," Merkel told German journalists.

"I said this to the Turkish president and we discussed these questions very openly."

"Not all my questions have been answered, we will have to watch developments closely," Merkel added.

Merkel also voiced concern over the prosecution of journalists in Turkey. She said no visa deal could be signed if the terrorism legislation was not changed soon.

Erdogan made no comments after the meeting, which took place on the sidelines of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

For its part, the European Commission on Monday said that work was ongoing on fulfilling the outstanding criteria for visa liberalisation.

Last week, EU ministers agreed to make it easier to suspend visa-free travel to Schengen in case countries' nationals overstayed their 90-day permit or claimed asylum en masse, a move that still needs to be approved by the EU parliament.

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