Turkey says most criteria for visa-free travel already met

Turkey says most criteria for visa-free travel already met

Turkey says most criteria for visa-free travel already met

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Just a quarter of the European Union’s requirements to grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel remain to be completed, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said as the implementation of a controversial deal between Turkey and the EU intended to halt illegal migration flows to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara marked its first month.

“With the completion of eight international treaties and legal arrangements concerning judicial assistance, important progress will be made,” Davutoğlu was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu Agency late on April 18, as he noted he expected a total of 72 required criteria to be completed by May.

As recently as April 13, Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru said 44 criteria were already finalized and works for conducting the other criteria were ongoing. 

Davutoğlu’s remarks came before his departure for Strasbourg where he addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) during its spring session. 

In Strasbourg, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned Ankara on April 19 that the “criteria will not be watered down in the case of Turkey.”

“As part of the agreement, we are working towards visa liberalization for Turkish citizens. Turkey must fulfill all remaining conditions,” Juncker told PACE, a regional rights body bringing together 47 states. 

“Visa liberalization is a matter of criteria. The criteria will not be watered down in the case of Turkey,” he said. 

Juncker said Davutoğlu had raised the issue in talks in Strasbourg “but he did not need to because... I have made clear that this will be done when Turkey has fulfilled all the conditions, which it is in the process of doing.”

Ahead of his departure for Strasbourg, Davutoğlu also warned the EU that it will cancel its agreements with the bloc on the migration crisis if the bloc fails to keep its word on a deal to provide visa-free travel to Turkish citizens by June.

The warning by Ankara came as various EU bodies have been set to review the implementation of the plan a month after Turkey and the EU sealed a controversial deal intended to halt illegal migration flows to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara. 

“Turkey is a serious interlocutor. It does what is has promised and will permit no concessions on the implementation of what it has been promised,” Davutoğlu said.

“This is a mutual commitment. If the EU cannot take the necessary steps required of it, then of course it cannot be expected of Turkey to take these steps,” Davutoğlu said at a press conference when asked about reports suggesting that the EU was set to bring in limitations to the deal with Turkey in regards to the prospects of visa-free travel.

A March 18 accord outlined measures to reduce Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II, including stepped-up checks by Turkey and the return of migrants who land on Greek islands to Turkey.

In return, Turkey is slated to receive benefits, including visa-free travel for its citizens to Europe by June “at the latest.”

But the prospect of visa-free travel for Turks has been hugely controversial in some EU countries, where leaders have been accused of bending over to fulfill Turkey’s demands.

The European Commission is scheduled to present its findings on the EU-Turkey agreement on April 20, while the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs will debate the European Commission’s report on Turkey’s progress toward meeting the EU’s requirements for visa liberalization on April 21.

Parliament, as well as the council, would need to approve any proposal to exempt people in Turkey from needing to acquire a visa when traveling to Europe.

“I maintain my belief that, God willing, we will have the visa exemption in June. In the absence of that, then of course no one can expect Turkey to adhere to its commitments,” Davutoğlu said.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu echoed the stance displayed by Davutoğlu, as he said Turkey would not abide by its commitments under the deal if the EU does not stick to its promise of visa-free travel.

“The deal we struck with the EU is very clear. We want this human tragedy to end, our citizens to travel visa-free, and the Customs Union to be updated,” Çavuşoğlu said late on April 18 in parliament in response to opposition criticism over the government’s Syria policies, which include the deal with the EU last month. 

“If the EU doesn’t keep its word, including the migrant deal, we will cancel all agreements,” he said.