The European Commission yesterday unveiled its proposal to give visa-free travel in the European Union (EU) to Turkey’s citizens, if it meets the five remaining benchmark conditions as a “matter of urgency”.
The proposal from the Commission was presented to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, where government ministers from each EU member state meet, and is expected to be adopted before the end of June, reports EUobserver.
Approval of visa-free travel is a key component of the deal negotiated with Turkey by which it commits to take back migrants crossing from Turkish territory to the Greek islands. It will result in unfettered travel for the country’s citizens across all Schengen-associated countries, meaning all EU member states (other than Ireland and the UK), as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
An estimated 7.5 million Turkish citizens hold existing passports. While they and the remaining 67.5 million citizens must theoretically wait for EU-compliant biometric passports to be issued from October to be able to travel freely within the Schengen zone, in the interim Turkey will issue short-validity EU-compliant passports at a rate of 10,000 a day from June.
Warning there is “no free ride here,” European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said that while Turkey “has made impressive progress” in recent weeks, “there is still work to be done as a matter of urgency” to reach the remaining benchmarks from the original 72.
The five remaining conditions are:
- both strengthening the independence of Turkey’s data protection authority and bringing law enforcement activities within its scope;
- adopting anti-corruption measures;
- fully cooperating with Europol (the EU’s law enforcement agency);
- judicial cooperation with EU member states; and
- reforming Turkey’s anti-terrorism law to align its definition of terrorist acts with the EU so journalists or academics merely expressing opinions no longer fall under its remit.
Mr. Timmermans was challenged by journalists about the EU dealing with a country prepared to indulge its authoritarian tendencies. According to EurActiv he replied:
“In the past years on not engaging with Turkey, of just shouting over the fence at each other, what has that done for democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the media in Turkey?
“Nothing. It has only worsened the situation.
“We need to engage with them. If they want to come closer to the EU, they will have to demonstrate that they adhere to our values, that they adhere to our norms.”
There is still concern within the European Commission that certain member states’ national parliaments, such as that of the Netherlands, have to ratify the proposal before ministers can pass it at European Council level.
Furthermore, the European Parliament has made it clear it will not agree to lift visa requirements for Turkey unless all 72 benchmarks have been met.
Turkish national leaders have already warned that the EU-Turkey migrant deal could be binned if visa liberalisation fails to go through on time.