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EU reiterates Ankara must meet conditions if visa requirements to be lifted

The EU will propose the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens visiting the bloc on May 4. That is if Ankara meets certain conditions.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

The European Commission will present its third visa liberalization progress report for Turkey on May 4, the body said in a statement Wednesday. If passed, the proposals could come into effect by the end of June.

"Visa liberalization is a matter of criteria. The criteria will not be watered down in the case of Turkey," Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a speech to the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog.

"If Turkey takes the necessary measures to fulfil the remaining benchmarks, the report will be accompanied by a legislative proposal for transferring Turkey to the visa-free list," a statement from Juncker said.

Over 1 million migrants and asylum seekers reached Europe in 2015, many using smugglers to help them take the treacherous sea journey from Turkey to Greece in the hope of reaching countries such as Germany and Sweden.

Possible deal breaker

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The EU and Turkey's Erdogan are trading accusations of not fulfilling the deal

The recent migration-stemming deal will be a key issue. The EU has pledged to take in one Syrian refugee from Turkey for each Syrian returned to the country in this way. So far, 325 migrants have been sent back from Greece under this arrangement, according to commission figures, while 103 Syrian refugees have been resettled from Turkey in EU member states.

The EU has also pledged an initial 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in aid for Syrian refugees living in Turkey, with a view to later doubling that figure if all goes as planned. Sixteen of the EU's 28 member states have now pledged their initial contributions, covering 1.61 billion of the 2 billion euros they have agreed to put in, the Commission said Wednesday. It is providing the remaining 1 billion euros.

Pressure on both sides

But the implementation of the deal must now be stepped up on both sides, the commission said.

Turkey has said the success of the migration deal depends on whether or not the EU moves ahead on the visa issue. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday that Ankara was fulfilling all the terms of the EU deal and that if the EU did not meet their part of the deal Turkey would stop applying its side of it.

The European Commission, meanwhile, said it will propose on May 4 that Turkey be transferred to the visa-free list if Turkey meets all 72 conditions. EU member states and the European Parliament will then decide whether to approve the move.

Meeting the conditions

Turkey says it has already met more than 50 of these and is working on completing the remainder. Juncker, meanwhile, said that only 19 had so far been met.

Those not completed include reducing a backlog of asylum applications, granting all refugees legal access to the labor market, strengthening visa requirements for countries that pose a high migration risk, taking necessary steps to protect fundamental rights and ending discrimination against citizens of EU member Cyprus, which Turkey does not recognize.

Pope Francis (R) welcomes a group of Syrian refugees that flew with him after landing at Ciampino airport in Rome, Italy, 16 April

Pope Francis (R) welcomes a group of Syrian refugees that flew with him after landing at Ciampino airport in Rome, Italy, 16 April

A first European Commission report on implementation of last month's EU-Turkey agreement to curb migration said good progress had been made but more resources and commitments were needed to carry out sustained returns of migrants from Greece to Turkey and to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey directly to Europe.

jbh/msh (dpa, Reuters)

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