Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday he wanted Turkish citizens to be granted visa-free travel within the European Union (EU) by October at the latest.
In a deal negotiated in March between Turkey and the EU it was agreed that in return for meeting 72 benchmarks of reform, visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens should be in place by the end of June. However, that deal was brokered by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu whose imminent resignation has been announced.
President Erdoğan offered his view on the deal in a televised speech, reports EUobserver, when he said:
“The promise that was made was for the month of October this year. I hope they will keep the promise that they made and close this issue by October at the latest.”
In saying that, it is likely that President Erdoğan has accepted the June deadline is unlikely to be met, and he is instead relying on last November’s pledge of visa-free travel in the Schengen zone by October 2016.
Although the European Commission last week expressed a hope that visa-free travel could be granted as a “matter of urgency”, Turkey is yet to meet all benchmarks set for it. At the time the European Parliament made it clear it will not agree to lift visa requirements unless all 72 benchmarks are met.
According to Die Welt, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz yesterday confirmed that Members of the European Parliament will not be approving the deal until every condition is fulfilled. The body’s approval is necessary to ratify the agreement, and it is understood Mr. Schulz will meet with the Turkish Minister for European Affairs to discuss the timetable being shifted to October.
In addition to data protection changes, the most controversial benchmark yet to be met relates to the reform of Turkey’s terrorism laws bringing them into line with those of EU countries, something which President Erdoğan recently suggested he is not prepared to move on. In a speech in Istanbul he said:
“When Turkey is under attack from terrorist organisations and the powers that support them directly, or indirectly, the EU is telling us to change the law on terrorism.
“They say ‘I am going to abolish visas and this is the condition.’ I’m sorry, we’re going our way, you go yours. Agree with whoever you can agree.”
The outcome of the matter is critical for the EU and how it deals with the ongoing migrant crisis. Turkish national leaders have already warned that the EU-Turkey migrant deal could be binned if visa liberalisation fails to go through.