EU expected to propose lifting visa requirements for Turkish citizens

The European Commission is expected Wednesday to propose lifting visa requirements for Turkish citizens visiting the bloc, pending the completion of required benchmarks, in return for Ankara's help in stemming migration flows into Europe.

The move is contentious within the European Union, amid concerns that visa-free travel could enable Turkish citizens to illegally resettle in the bloc, allow thousands of Turkish Kurds to seek asylum or create a security risk by opening the door to radicalized Islamists.

But the benefit, long sought by Ankara, was offered as part of an EU-Turkey deal struck in March, which allows for the return of migrants travelling from Turkey to Greece, in an attempt to halt a migration surge that saw 1 million people reach European shores last year.

Visa requirements could be removed for short-term visits to the EU as of July if Ankara fulfils 72 previously set benchmarks in time. Fewer than 10 remain to be completed, an EU source said Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

Many question Ankara's ability to fulfil all 72 benchmarks, which include meeting European standards on the treatment of refugees, the independence of data protection authorities and respect for human rights in the fight against terrorism and organized crime, among other things.

The move comes amid a recent media crackdown in Turkey and a bloody war in the country's predominantly Kurdish south-east, both of which have attracted harsh criticism from rights groups.

Once the benchmarks are met, a majority of member states and the European Parliament would then have to give their approval before the visa restrictions on Turkish citizens would be lifted.

It is unclear how many of Turkey's almost 79 million citizens could benefit from visa-free travel to Europe. Only around 10 per cent are estimated to be in possession of Turkish passports, and there are questions about whether these meet the EU's security norms.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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