22nd Oct 2016

EU won't budge on Turkey visa demands

The EU commission will not relax demands for Turkey to rewrite its anti-terrorism laws, a chief spokeswoman told reporters on Monday (1 August) in Brussels.

The reforms are required before the EU lifts short-stay visas on Turkish nationals as a part of a much larger migrant agreement deal signed off with Ankara in March.

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EU commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Turkey must fulfil all 72 benchmarks before visa requirements to passport-free Schengen states are lifted.

"With regards to the anti-terrorism legislation, I think first of all [European Commission] President Juncker has made it clear that we cannot change the benchmarks," she said.

There are seven outstanding benchmarks, five of which can "objectively" be fulfilled before the waivers are granted.

Terrorism laws and Turkey

Among the most contentious is a demand for lawmakers in Ankara to restrict their broad definition of terrorism.

The law has been used to crackdown on journalists and the opposition to Erdogan's rule.

Andreeva said the EU did not want to weaken Turkey's capacity to fight terrorism but that a measure of "proportionality" must be used.

"That means that persons such as journalists and professors who express in a non-violent manner their views, and do not call for the use of violence, do not find themselves being put in prison or charged for this expression of views on the basis of terrorism legislation," she said.

Andreeva's comments follow an interview with Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung over the weekend.

Cavusoglu warned visas must be lifted or Turkey would pull out of its deal with EU on migrants.

Under the March agreement, Turkey agreed to prevent migrants from travelling to Greece in exchange for political and cash incentives.

While 468 people have been returned to Turkey from Greece since the launch of the deal, 849 Syrians have been resettled from Turkey to the EU.

Greek authorities are reporting an increase in arrivals since the failed coup against Turkey's autocratic president on 15 July.

The EU commission said around 89 people arrived each day during July. Last year, the daily average height was around 1,700.

Turkey's visa benchmarks

Turkey still needs to meet five benchmarks before visa requirements are lifted.

Aside from reforming its anti-terrorism laws, it needs to align legislation on personal data protection with EU standards as well as adopt measures to prevent corruption.

It also needs to conclude an operational cooperation agreement with the EU police agency, Europol, and offer judicial cooperation in criminal matters to all member states.

Another two benchmarks can be sorted after visas are removed, said the EU commission.

Turkey will need to upgrade existing biometric passports to include security features.

It also needs to fully implement an agreement to allow EU states to send non-Turks or so-called third country nationals back to Turkey.

The EU commission is set to publish the next progress report on the EU Turkey deal in September.

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