Turkey-EU deal not a piece of cake

Turkey-EU deal not a piece of cake

The visa-free travel scheme between Turkey and the European Union continues to be a problem, amid challenging statements from both sides.

The agreement on visa-free travel for Turkish citizens within the EU came as part of a wider accord between Ankara and Brussels for control over the migration flux into the bloc triggered by the Syrian civil war. It is also part of the reactivation of Turkey’s integration process with the EU.

According to the deal, Turkey was supposed to fulfill 72 benchmarks by May 4 and the European Commission was then supposed to propose to start the procedure. Despite the fact that not all of those benchmarks were completed, the Commission made that recommendation, saying it trusted they would be fulfilled by the time of the European Council meeting in June.

On the same day as the Commission’s recommendation, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had a meeting, after which Davutoğlu said he was stepping down.

That apparently created questions in EU capitals about the validity of the March 18 agreement, which was mainly designed by Davutoğlu and seconded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The necessity of the European Parliament’s securing of the Commission’s recommendation before it is voted on in the Council has led to European politicians raising their voices about the state of rights and freedoms in Turkey, including press freedom and anti-terror laws.

President Erdoğan, praising the hosting of around 3 million refugees in Turkey, strongly reacted to these statements, vowing that if the visa deal is not met then the EU could forget about the migration deal. At a time when the migration influx is among the worst nightmares of EU governments, this reaction brought back to mind Erdoğan’s former words about “waving goodbye” to migrants who wanted to cross over into Europe.

The impasse here is the fact that EU member governments do not have full control over their members of the European Parliament, where the mood is not very pro-Turkish government nowadays.

That makes the entire deal vulnerable to the political atmosphere in Strasbourg, the home of the European Parliament. Time is short and there are a number of things still to be completed, at a time when Turkey is simultaneously engaged in two major anti-terror fights - against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

All in all, the deal is certainly not a piece of cake - neither for Turkey, nor for the EU - despite its strategic importance for both.