Turkey halfway through getting visa-free EU travel


still has an uphill battle ahead before the allows its citizens to enter the bloc’s passport-free Schengen zone without a visa.

For the past couple of years, Turkey has been asking the European Union to allow its 79 million citizens to enter the bloc’s passport-free Schengen zone without a visa, a call that has met with 72 conditions, which are listed in an framework titled the “RoadmapTowards a Visa Free Regime with Turkey”. Turkey says it has so far met most of the requirements, while the EU maintains that Ankara has only fulfilled less than half of all the criteria needed to get the visa waiver.
The roadmap, written in late 2013, “identifies the areas where Turkey will have to undertake legislative and administrative reforms with a view to establishing a secure environment for visa-free ,” and addresses four main blocks: document security, migration and border management, public order and security, and fundamental rights, each of which contains several requirements to be fulfilled by the Turkish government.
It also requires that Ankara fulfill a specific set of requirements in the area of readmission of illegal refugees, a process specifically monitored by the European Commission, which has so far adopted two reports on Turkey’s progress in fulfilling the requirements. The commission’s third report is to be presented on May 4.
Based on the first two reports, the EU says that Turkey has been accelerating the implementation of administrative and legal reforms but has currently satisfied only 35 out of the 72 conditions at best.
According to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Turkey needs to fulfill “all” requirements, not some of them.
“On free travel, this will be done only once all the criteria are respected, as for all countries with which we negotiate free travel for a limited period,” said Mogherini in an interview with France Inter radio on Tuesday.
“It was the case with Georgia, it was the case with Ukraine, it is a discussion we are having with Kosovo. There are very strict, technical criteria that must be put in place, a very severe verification must be carried out to apply this measure,” she added.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L) hugs European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during a press conference at the end of a summit on relations between the European Union and Turkey and on the refugee crisis at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, on November 29, 2015. (AFP)

On Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also said in a statement that all the criteria must be met and that they “will not be watered down in the case of Turkey.”
“If Turkey takes the necessary measures to fulfill the remaining benchmarks, the report will be accompanied by a legislative proposal for transferring Turkey to the visa-free list,” he further said.
Turkey faces an end-of-April deadline to meet all the 72 requirements. Then on May 4, the European Commission will propose to transfer Turkey to its visa-free list, providing that all criteria have been met. The EU member states and the European Parliament will then decide whether to approve the move.

Women and children wait for food distribution at a makeshift camp at the northern village of Idomeni, at the Greek-Macedonian border, on April 5, 2016. (AFP)

On the other hand, under an EU-Turkey controversial deal sealed last month, Ankara agreed to take back all the asylum seekers and refugees, who had used its territory to illegally reach EU shores in return for a number of commitments from the EU, including a financial aid, visa liberalization and progress in its EU membership negotiations.
If Ankara meets its side of the agreement, the European Commission has promised to recommend next month that EU states approve visa-free travel for Turkish nationals.
However, the government in Ankara has so far faced widespread condemnation over its crackdown on critical media outlets, MPs, scholars, lawyers and NGOs.

A protester holds a sign reading “Free media cannot be silenced” during a demonstration near the headquarters of Turkish daily Zaman in Istanbul on March 6, 2016. (AFP)

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in an interview with the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag on April 3 that the bloc “must not be silent on violations of fundamental rights in Turkey just because we are cooperating on the refugee question.”
“On the contrary, we must denounce these violations and permanently stay in discussions with Turkey on freedom of expression and human rights issues,” he added.
As required under the roadmap, “freedom of movement of citizens of Turkey” must not be “subject to unjustified restrictions, including measures of a discriminatory nature, based on any ground such as sex, race, color, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation.”

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