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Turkey visa-free deal gets conditional EU green light

© Thierry Charlier, AFP | Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L), EU Council President Donald Tusk (C) and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) conclude a controversial migrant deal at a Brussels summit on March 18, 2016.

Video by Armen GEORGIAN

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-05-04

Turkey believes it has met all 72 criteria set by the European Union for a deal granting Turks visa-free travel in the bloc and the European Commission has largely confirmed this, Turkey’s EU Minister, Volkan Bozkir, said on Wednesday.

He was speaking at a news conference after the bloc’s executive recommended EU governments ease visa requirements for Turkish travellers in an effort to keep a vital migration accord on track.

"The European Commission is today proposing... to lift the visa requirements for the citizens of Turkey" on condition that Ankara fulfils "as a matter of urgency" criteria set by the EU, according to a document tweeted by Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

The Commission said Wednesday that Turkey has met most of the 72 criteria needed for a visa waiver, and it invited member states and EU lawmakers to endorse the move by June 30.

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said, "There is still work to be done as a matter of urgency but if Turkey sustains the progress made, they can meet the remaining benchmarks."

Brussels is also set to announce further measures to tackle the biggest influx of migrants since World War II, with an extension of border controls in the passport-free Schengen zone and an overhaul of its asylum rules.

The measures included a 250,000 euro fine per head for EU states refusing to take in refugees.

Turkey had threatened to tear up the March agreement to take back migrants who cross the Aegean Sea to Greece if the EU failed to keep its promise to allow Turkish citizens to travel without visas to the Schengen area by next month.

Many EU states still have concerns about the legality of the deal and the human rights situation in Turkey

Reporting from Brussels, FRANCE 24’s Armen Georgian noted that although the European Commission on Wednesday gave a conditional backing to the deal, it still needed to be approved by the European parliament and by EU governments and that could take a while. “I’ve been hearing from MEPs (Members of European Parliament) this morning who are by no means unanimous or united on this issue. Some of them were telling me that Europe is making too many concessions too quickly to Ankara and that Turkey’s democratic record is troubling. They were telling me that Europe does not need to move so fast just because it needs Turkey on the migrant issue.”

Schengen border controls

The Turkish deal is the cornerstone of the EU's plan to curb a crisis that has seen 1.25 million Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan and other migrants enter Europe since 2015, though the numbers of arrivals have dropped since March.

Turkey meanwhile has been rushing through laws in recent days to meet the EU's requirements, although that effort has occasionally stalled because of a series of mass brawls in parliament.

The new laws include making a reciprocal visa agreement for EU nationals, including those of Cyprus, with which Turkey has long-standing tensions over its occupation of the north of the Mediterranean island.

"Yesterday, a government decree has been adopted by the Turkish government allowing the access to Turkish territory without visa for citizens of all 28 member states, I repeat all 28," Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said.

Since 2015, several countries in the Schengen area have effectively suspended the principle of border-free travel in the wake of the migrant crisis and terror attacks.

On Wednesday the EU also backed an extension of border controls requested by Germany, France, Austria, Denmark and Sweden – countries who insisted their border situation remains "extremely volatile".

EU rules say countries can reintroduce border controls for up to two years, in periods of up to six months at a time, in exceptional circumstances.

Dublin rules

Also Wednesday, the EU unveiled an overhaul of its asylum rules to more fairly share responsibility for migrants and refugees arriving in Europe.

The so-called Dublin rules currently in force have been criticised as obsolete and unfair to countries like Greece, where most of the migrants entered the bloc last year.

Under those rules, migrants seeking asylum must lodge their application in the country where they first arrived, and should be returned there if they try to move elsewhere in the bloc.

The European Commission also proposed a special mechanism whereby refugees and migrants can be relocated to other countries if a crisis is declared – for example in Greece.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-05-04

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