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EU official defends deal as Turkey deadline approaches

Turkey's EU affairs minister says legislation to meet criteria for visa liberalization will be completed by next week. The EU humanitarian aid commissioner says the bloc's deportation deal with Turkey was the only hope.

Turkish EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir told the broadcaster NTV that he expects the European Commission to recommend the lifting of visas for Turks traveling to the bloc by next week. Under

a landmark deal

implemented in March,

Turkey

won financial aid, potentially accelerated EU accession talks and visa-free Schengen travel for citizens in return for agreeing to take refugees whose

asylum applications have been rejected

by the bloc.

"I know this deal remains controversial," EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said in Paris on Thursday. "I would like to say that there is no solution without Turkey. There is no other solution than having a deal with Turkey. We need them, they need us, that is all."

The EU will ship certain refugees to Turkey if they arrive in Greece after March 20. Critics from across the political spectrum have accused the European Union of sacrificing core stated values - from basic human rights to

free expression

- in agreeing to the deal, which observers consider legally and morally questionable.

The news website Politico has reported that officials in France and

Germany

are seeking wording that would allow the European Union to suspend visa-free travel should countries deem it necessary.

'Unfortunate,' 'not ideal'

Commissioner Stylianides appeared in front of France's Senate on Thursday to hear the "critical doubts" expressed by lawmakers about the deal. Legislators also grilled Stylianides with questions about Turkey's threat to drop its end of the bargain should the European Union fail to keep its word on the visa deal.

Stylianides described that threat as "unfortunate." He called the agreement "not ideal, definitely: It is a very big challenge for all of us - we had very tough negotiations."

Deportations

After the EU rejected them, these men were shipped to Turkey

The commissioner said Turkey had already completed half of the 72 conditions for visa-free travel. Stylianides also pointed out the number of refugees arriving on EU soil had dropped from 1,667 on March 20 to a few dozen a day since.

"We cannot reduce our benchmarks for anyone, but, at the same time, we have to promote this deal," Stylianides said. "Unfortunately the refugees will keep wanting to flee conflict zones," he added. "We must realize this is a defining question for Europe. The manner in which we react will determine how history will evaluate our actions."

mkg/ (Reuters, AFP)

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