Sunday 11 December 2016

Turkey set for a historic visa-waiver deal with EU despite missing targets

Matthew Holehouse

Published 03/05/2016 | 02:30

Turkey has warned that if it is not given the visa waiver - which will grant automatic access to the Schengen zone for tourists for up to 90 days - then it will
Turkey has warned that if it is not given the visa waiver - which will grant automatic access to the Schengen zone for tourists for up to 90 days - then it will "terminate" the migration deal. Photo: Reuters

Turkey is on course to be handed visa-free travel to the European Union for its 75 million citizens, despite not meeting a series of key targets.

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Tomorrow, the European Commission is expected to recommended a radical loosening of travel conditions for the country. The giveaway is part of a €6bn aid-for-deportations migration deal struck with Ankara, which has resulted in a steep fall in the number of refugees attempting to cross into Europe.

Turkey has warned that if it is not given the visa waiver - which will grant automatic access to the Schengen zone for tourists for up to 90 days - then it will "terminate" the migration deal.

That risks a return to the chaos on the Aegean as thousands attempt to make the perilous journey. Since the deal came into force, crossings have fallen from several thousand a day to fewer than 100.

But EU sources admit Turkey has met only around 60 of the 72 ­'benchmarks' it has set to unlock the visa-free ­travel rights. It includes the universal ­introduction of tamper-proof biometric passports, without which Turks will not be able to use the scheme.

Reforms to terrorism laws, data protection measures and an anti-corruption drive also have not been delivered.

European officials are now ­scrambling to sign off as many clauses as possible before tomorrow's deadline to make the recommendation. The proposal will then be presented to MEPs and national leaders at a summit on June 28, five days after Britain's referendum.

Mina Andreeva, a Commission spokeswoman, refused to comment on individual measures but said Turkey made "a lot of efforts over the past weeks and days to meet the criteria".

Kosovo is also expected to be granted visa-free travel soon. Combined with recent recipients Georgia and Ukraine, it amounts to a significant relaxation of travel rules for 127 million people at a time when the EU is grappling to secure its external border against illegal migrants and the risk of terrorist infiltration.

The Commission is expected to give Germany and Austria permission to extend border controls for another six months, following a report into the Greek border system. The countries need the green light to avoid being in breach of Schengen border rules.

In a move that could have profound implications for Europe, it is also expected to announce how the Dublin system of rules that oblige asylum seekers to be sent back to the first country they register in will be reformed.

One option being considered is to scrap this rule, and instead share out migrants according to a quota system based on a state's size and economy.

A second option is that the Dublin rules would remain in place during normal circumstances, but a quota scheme would be activated in the event of a major migration emergency.

Meanwhile, in Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon predicted rising support for a second independence referendum if Britain votes to leave the European Union.

"The prospect of Brexit would definitely lead to growing demand for Scottish independence," the Scottish National Party leader said. "If we see that growing demand, no one would have the right to stand in the way of that."

Irish Independent

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