Turkey ‘has met EU criteria for visa-free travel’
Ankara hopes the right for Turkish citizens will be implemented in 2018, providing “new momentum to Turkish-EU relations”.
A senior Turkish official said the country has fulfilled all 72 requirements set by the European Union to secure visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the 28-nation bloc.
Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey had submitted all relevant documents to EU officials ahead of an EU-Turkey summit next month.
Mr Kalin said he hoped the right to visa-free travel would be implemented in 2018, adding that it would give “a new momentum to Turkish-EU relations”.
Visa liberalisation was a key part of a 2016 EU-Turkey deal aimed at stemming the flow of tens of thousands of migrants to Europe – but Turkey failed to meet some of the criteria, including amending its anti-terror laws.
Mr Kalin said all outstanding criteria had now been met.
But the European Commission, which verifies compliance, was not so upbeat. A spokeswoman acknowledged that Turkey’s ambassador had “handed over a paper regarding the remaining visa liberalisation benchmarks” to Commission vice president Frans Timmermans.
She added that “the Commission will now study the paper carefully”, noting that respecting the benchmarks require “legislative and procedural changes”.
Among other requirements, the EU had demanded that Turkey change its definition of what constitutes a “terrorism offence” to ensure that security laws are not used to crack down on the media or academics.
In light of Turkey’s failed military coup in 2016, and with suicide bombers regularly striking Turkish cities, Mr Erdogan could not be seen to be backing down in the fight against extremism.
Mr Kalin said: “Certain arrangements were made in a way that will not pave the way for weakening Turkey’s struggle against terrorism, and these were submitted to the EU.”
Brussels confirmed Mr Erdogan will meet Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council president Donald Tusk and Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov, whose country holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, in Varna, Bulgaria, on March 26.
The Commission said the talks will focus on “subjects of mutual interest and recent developments in Turkey. That includes obviously the rule of law and fundamental rights”.
The EU is concerned about a media and justice crackdown in Turkey that followed the failed 2016 coup and Ankara’s military campaign in northern Syria against the Kurds.
It is wary, however, of angering a country upon which it depends to limit the flow of migrants into Europe.