The European Union's executive on Wednesday proposed lifting visa requirements for Turkish citizens visiting the bloc, pending the completion of required benchmarks, under a deal enlisting Ankara's help in stemming migration to 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.
The benefit, long sought by Ankara, was offered as part of an agreement 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 should be removed for short-term visits to the EU as of July if Ankara fulfils 72 previously set benchmarks in time, the commission recommended Wednesday. A majority of member states and the European Parliament would also have to approve the move.
Five benchmarks remain incomplete, commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said Wednesday.
Many have questioned Ankara's ability to fulfil all 72 goals, 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 conflict in the country's predominantly Kurdish south-east, both of which have drawn harsh criticism from rights groups.
EU officials have called for the recognition of Turkey as a safe country of origin, meaning that asylum requests from that country would generally have little chance of being approved. This could become problematic in the case of a surge in asylum claims from Turkish Kurds.
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.
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