EU to grant Turkey visa-free travel in migrant deal
The European Union is set to give conditional approval on Wednesday for Turks to gain visa-free access to the Schengen zone, meeting a key demand by Ankara to keep a migrant crisis deal alive.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, will say Turkey must still meet further measures to access the passportless Schengen area without visas by June, sources told AFP on Tuesday.
Ankara has demanded that the visa requirement be scrapped in exchange for taking back migrants who land in Greece under a seal signed in March, but there are still widespread concerns among EU states, especially over human rights issues in Turkey.
"The Commission will put forward a plan to include Turkey in the list of countries exempted from visas," a European source told AFP, adding that "only 64 out of the 72 criteria are fulfilled" and that the offer, therefore, remains conditional.
Turkey has to meet a list of 72 criteria – ranging from biometric passports to respect for human rights – that were set when Brussels and Ankara first talked about 90-day visa-free travel to the Schengen area.
EU member states and the European Parliament must still approve the Turkey visa plan after it clears the Commission, which is by no means a foregone conclusion.
Turkey has pressed the EU to respect its promises over what the government in Ankara regards as its big win from the migrant deal signed at a summit on March 18.
Germany and France have proposed an emergency brake or "snap back mechanism" under which it could halt visa-free travel if large numbers of Turks stay in the EU illegally or if there are a large number of asylum applications by Turks.
The EU struck the deal with Turkey to send back all "irregular" migrants who arrive in Greece after March 20 and are turned down for asylum, in a bid to halt mass migration which has created enormous strain in Europe.
In exchange, the EU will resettle one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey for every Syrian that Turkey takes back from the Greek islands, the aim being to discourage people from crossing to Greece in the first place.
The accord is awash with legal and moral concerns, and critics have accused the EU of sacrificing its values and overlooking Turkey's growing crackdown on free speech in order to secure the deal.