BRUSSELS: Turkey should get visa-free travel to the European Union, the EU executive said on Wednesday, but it must meet outstanding conditions and should not think that its deal with the EU on controlling migration gives it a “free ride”.
That controversial deal agreed in March helped sharply cut arrivals of refugees and migrants to Europe but Ankara says it would scrap it should the bloc reneges on its promise to liberalise visa rules, in theory by the end of June.
EU Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said Turkey had yet to meet five of the required 72 conditions.
“There is no free ride here,” he told reporters, stressing that Ankara must meet standards required of other states exempt from visas.
In its proposal to allow visa-free access to Turkey – which now must be approved by EU governments and the European Parliament – the Commission included a “snap-back mechanism”, that would allow the EU to suspend the system.
Applicable to any country that has a visa-free deal with the EU, visa requirements could be re-imposed if there were problems such as a surge in people staying beyond the allowed 90 days.
That was proposed last week by France and Germany, both facing public concern about easing visas for 79 million Turks.
Turkey’s minister for EU relations told a news conference in Ankara that he believed all 72 criteria had already been met.
“The Commission confirms this to a large extent,” Volkan Bozkir said, adding that he hoped the process could be completed on schedule by the end of June.
However, few if any Turks would be able to come to Europe’s Schengen zone in July without a visa since the regulation is limited to those with biometric passports, including fingerprint data, which Turkey does not issue at present.
Timmermans said Turkey had made “impressive progress, particularly in recent weeks”.
“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,” the EU commissioner said.
The leader of the biggest group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber from a German party allied to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, said the assembly would not be rushed or drop existing standards to approve the Turkish visa deal and welcomed the Commission’s plan for a rapid suspension mechanism.
“We will take all the time we need for a thoroughly detailed examination and discussion,” Weber said.
Among the five outstanding issues are new legislation on corruption, data protection and terrorist offences.
EU officials say the March agreement with Ankara has succeeded in stemming the flow of migrants. Only 123 people reached Greek islands from Turkey on Tuesday, U.N. data showed, compared to daily averages around 10,000 in October’s peak.
Questioned about other elements of the deal under which the EU promised to revive negotiations on Turkish membership of the bloc, Timmermans said Turkey under President Tayyip Erdogan was “moving further away” from Europe on human rights.
He said the way to reverse that trend was to open relevant areas of membership negotiations, not shun Ankara.
“We need to engage with them and take them to task,” he said.