Global Independent Analytics

EU to propose visa-free travel for Turks May 4 if terms met

The European Union's executive said on Wednesday it will propose on May 4 granting Turks visa-free travel to the bloc from late June -- if Ankara meets the remaining conditions

Paul Taylor for Reuters reports: A first European Commission report on implementation of last month's EU-Turkey agreement to curb migration said good progress had been made but more resources and commitments were needed to carry out sustained returns of migrants from Greece to Turkey and to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey directly to Europe. The Commission did not say how many of the 72 benchmarks for visa liberalization Turkey has yet to complete but it pointed to several areas where work remains to be done.

Among those conditions there are: reducing a backlog of asylum applications, granting all refugees legal access to the labor market, strengthening visa requirements for countries that pose a high migration risk, taking necessary steps to protect fundamental rights and ending discrimination against citizens of EU member Cyprus, which Turkey does not recognize.

In his turn, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed that it is the EU which did not abide by the rules of the recent agreement on refugees; he also added that if the EU did not meet its part, Turkey would stop admitting the refugees that are now being sent back from Greece to Turkey.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said after meeting him in Strasbourg that the visa criteria would not be watered down. "The Commission will present its third visa liberalization progress report for Turkey on May 4 and if Turkey takes the necessary measures to fulfill the remaining benchmarks, the report will be accompanied by a legislative proposal for transferring Turkey to the visa-free list," the report said.

The measure needs an approval of a qualified majority of EU member states and a majority of votes in the European Parliament to take effect. However, it is anticipated that Germany and France, which are hosting tens of thousands of refugees, will enthusiastically support this measure even though the visa s=agreement does not imply the permission for Turks to work or stay longer than three months.

German EU lawmaker Markus Ferber, from Chancellor Angela Merkel's critical conservative Bavarian sister party, said Turkey should not be given any "political discount". "The burden of proof is not on the EU but on Turkey. There are clear conditions for visa freedom. The fact is that Turkey doesn't meet them at the moment," Ferber said in a statement.

So far, 325 migrants were sent back to Turkey and 103 Syrian refugees were resettled in the EU. Although Greece has accelerated procedures of refugees’ admission and the EU agencies for border management and asylum assistance have deployed escort officers, readmission experts, asylum officers and interpreters to help, Turkey is still 390 million euros short and 12 of the 28 EU member states have yet to contribute.

"Member states need to step up their efforts in supporting Greece; ... more pledges and acceptances are needed in terms of resettlement, relocation and support to the EU agencies," the report said.

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

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