More time than expected may be needed for Turkish citizens to get visa-free access to the European Union, a top official from the bloc said Wednesday, downplaying hopes on what has been a key demand from Ankara in exchange for its help on migration.
Turkey has in the past threatened to scrap a deal it has with the EU to stem migration flows if the bloc does not provide visa exemptions for Turkish nationals by October. But Brussels has insisted that Ankara first reform a controversial law on terrorism.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told EU parliamentarians on Wednesday that people should show more patience on issues relating to Turkey because of the difficult questions that need to be solved there.
"I am convinced that this is happening, but it will not necessarily be possible to do this in the foreseen timeframe," Juncker said during a debate at the European Parliament following his annual state of the union speech.
"Without a reform for example of the anti-terrorism law, it will not be possible to seriously envisage visa liberalization regarding Turkey for a specific date," he added.
The visa requirement for Turkish citizens travelling to the EU was originally due to be lifted in July, but the move was stalled because Turkey had not yet fulfilled all of 72 prerequisite criteria - notably the EU demand that it narrow its definition of terrorism.
There have been concerns that Ankara has used anti-terrorism laws to crack down on political opponents and the media. But Turkish officials say the requested reform is impossible given the current terrorist threat.