The European Commission has provisionally approved visa-free travel in Europe for Turkish citizens. However, Turkey still has preconditions to fulfill, and European parliaments will have to approve the move.
The European Commission on Wednesday recommended visa-free access to Turkish citizens who wanted to travel to the European Union for short holidays or business trips. However, the suspension would be valid only if Turkey completes all the remaining conditions, the commission said.
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager tweeted a picture of the Commission statement that said: "The European Commission is today proposing to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to lift the visa requirements for the citizens of Turkey, under the understanding that the Turkish authorities will fulfill, as a matter of urgency and as they committed to do so on March 18, 2016, the outstanding benchmarks of its Visa Liberalization Roadmap."
Following approval by the European Council and Parliament, the recommendation will have to be approved by the national parliaments of each EU member state. The rule is scheduled to come into force by June 30.
Speaking in Ankara on Wednesday, Turkey's Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu said, "In addition to being a turning point for visa free travel for our citizens... this decision is a new page in the process ahead of us in relations with the European Union."
However, EU officials say Ankara will have to fulfill all 72 conditions before the regulation is implemented. "There is no free ride here, and we are clear about what remains to be done," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters in Brussels.
Turkey and the refugee deal
Turkey has been rushing to fulfill the 72 conditions that the EU put forward before it grants visa-free access to Turkish citizens. On Tuesday, Ankara waived visa requirements for citizens from all 28 EU states, including Cyprus, whose government it refuses to recognize. Turkey said on Tuesday that it still didn't recognize the Cypriot government, despite the visa-free deal.
Other conditions Ankara was facing included issuing biometric travel documents for all Turks, improved border controls and surveillance, cooperation with the EU on crime, and human rights issues linked to anti-terror and discrimination laws.
"There is still work to be done as a matter of urgency but if Turkey sustains the progress made, they can meet the remaining benchmarks," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told journalists in Brussels, saying Turkey still had five of the 72 criteria to meet.
Freeing up visas for Turkey's 80 million citizens has generated heated debate among EU member states, but Ankara says it will renege on the refugee deal if the bloc backs out.
European countries signed the accord in March this year after being overwhelmed by an influx of nearly one million migrants in 2015. The deal includes financial aid of up to 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) for rehabilitating the migrants and providing for their health and education in Turkey. It also promises Turkey that the EU would take one refugee from Turkish camps for every migrant returned to Turkey from mainland Europe.
mg/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP)