EU, Turkey admit delay in visa-free travel
ANKARA / LUXEMBOURGTurkey’s EU minister has admitted there is no chance of completing a deal on visa-free travel to the European Union by a July 1 deadline, as the EU’s interior ministers demanded once more during a June 10 meeting in Luxembourg that Turkey change its anti-terror law.
The EU agreed in March to offer Turkey visa-free access by July 1, increased aid and accelerated accession talks in return for Ankara controlling the flood of migrants crossing into Greece.
But Turkey has yet to fulfill all of the conditions laid down by the European Commission for the visa agreement, including changes to Ankara’s anti-terrorism laws to meet EU concerns over human rights.
Turkish European Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik admitted the July 1 deadline would be missed in an interview late June 10 with Dutch broadcaster NOS, during a visit to The Hague, which is the first official such acknowledgement by Ankara.
“If we are realistic, we are not going to achieve this date,” he said.
Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka also said on June 10 that the July 1 deadline was not feasible.
“But we think it must happen as soon as possible,” the Turkish minister said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last month that the visa exemption must be introduced by October at the latest. Ankara has threatened to scrap the migrant deal with the EU altogether if visa-free travel is not awarded.
Çelik said he believed Turkey had met all the necessary criteria and that there was “no question of making any change that would reduce our capacity to fight terrorism.”
Once Turkey has fulfilled the conditions, the European Parliament would still have to give its approval to the deal.
Meanwhile, no official decisions were taken at the EU ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, but it was clear that the situation of visa-free travel for Turkey did not seem to be changing soon, Deutsche Welle reported.
The EU ministers believe that the conditions for visa-free travel have not been fulfilled, while a European diplomat cited the current political developments in Turkey, saying that it constituted an obstacle to visa-free travel.
The diplomat, whose identity was not revealed, said an immunity bill, which paves the way for the trial of 152 legislators, mostly from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and the insults against German MPs after the approval of a resolution declaring the World War I-era killings of Anatolian Armenians at the hands of Ottomans as “genocide,” show that “it’s not the right time for visa-free travel.”
In addition, the European Commission will present a new report on Ankara’s anti-terror law on June 14.