A deal to allow Turkish Nationals to travel visa free throughout all EU member states (except the United Kingdom and Ireland) and the Schengen zone as early as the end of June will collapse if Turkey does not meet all of the requirements laid down by the EU in order to obtain approval from the European Parliament and European Council.
On 4 May 2016, the European Parliament said that its position remained “unchanged” from earlier discussions and that, although the “very substantial efforts” deployed by Turkey are welcome, not all benchmarks have yet been fulfilled. “Until this is fully the case, and until the Commission provides the Parliament with a written guarantee that it is the case, thorough work should continue but no referral to committee [of Group leaders of the European Parliament] can take place”, said a press release from the EP’s president, Martin Schulz.
On Monday it further emerged that the “conference of presidents” of the EP suspended work on the file entirely, until all of the requirements have been met. The end of June target is therefore now looking increasingly unrealistic.
One of the major stumbling blocks to the advancement of the Commission’s proposal is Turkey’s reluctance to amend its anti-terror legislation. The EU Commission has called Turkey’s law on terror “overly broad”, and commentators have accused Ankara of using its anti-terror legislation to intimidate journalists and stifle dissent. The Turkish government denies this, insisting that these laws are necessary for keeping the country safe. Ankara argues that without this legislation it will not be able to protect the country from growing threats from ISIS in neighboring Syria and Iraq. As a result of this Turkey has warned the EU it will not change their laws, as they need to be equipped to fight militants.
While the visa issue is part of a deal aimed at easing Europe’s migration crisis, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has publically stated that the migration crisis does not mean that they will negotiate against the values of the EU. Furthermore, MEPs have made it clear that changes to Turkey’s anti-terror laws are a non-negotiable condition for the visa waiver to be implemented.
While visa liberalization has been of importance for the Turkish Government, and EU membership is a long-term strategic goal for Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reportedly threatened to stop taking back migrants from Greece if the deal falls through. Reuters reported the President saying, ” When Turkey is under attack from terrorist organizations and the powers that support them directly or indirectly, the EU is telling us to change the law on terrorism. They say ‘I am going to abolish visas and this is the condition.’ I’m sorry, we’re going our way, you go yours. Agree with who ever you can agree.”
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tanju Bilgic, has also spoken out regarding the visa liberalization issue following the President’s statement, but stated that Turkey will continue to negotiate and to develop the necessary policies to allow for liberalization with the EU, however, this is proving to be an increasingly unrealistic proposal.
EU officials also maintain that the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal is ongoing and that there is no ‘plan B’. But with each side seemingly entrenched in such a stalemate, European leaders and bureaucrats may well be forced to look at alternative mechanisms for addressing the migrant crisis and reform its Common Asylum System.