Turkey came a significant step closer to its long-sought goal of visa-free access for its visitors to the European Union on Wednesday, when the bloc's executive recommended visa liberalization once Ankara has fulfilled outstanding benchmarks.
Visa-free access could come as early as July, in return for Turkey's help in stemming migration flows into Europe. However, Ankara must still meet a series of conditions set by Brussels.
These are the main remaining hurdles:
VISA LIBERALIZATION BENCHMARKS
Ankara has fulfilled 65 of an overall 72 visa liberalization benchmarks. The following five steps need to be completed "as a matter of urgency," the European Commission said Wednesday:
- Adopt anti-corruption measures.
- Align personal data protection legislation with EU standards, in particular regarding the independence of the data protection authority and the legality of law enforcement activities.
- Conclude a cooperation agreement with the EU police agency Europol.
- Offer judicial cooperation in criminal matters to all EU member states.
- Bring legislation and practices on terrorism in line with European standards; narrow the definition of terrorism and use proportionate measures to tackle it.
Turkey has been given additional time to complete the following two final benchmarks:
- Introduce biometric passports that meet EU security standards. Ankara has pledged to issue these from October. In the interim, it would provide anyone wishing to travel to the EU without a visa with short-term biometric passports containing a facial image and fingerprints.
- Implement a deal under which Turkish citizens can be returned to Turkey if they are illegally residing in the EU. It would also apply to third-country nationals who reached the bloc via Turkey but have no right to stay. This readmission scheme is due to take effect on June 1.
EU MEMBER STATE, PARLIAMENT APPROVAL
A majority of EU member states and the European Parliament must give the green light before Turkish citizens can receive visa-free access to the bloc.
The European Parliament has said it will not vote on Turkish visa liberalization until it has received a written guarantee from the commission that all 72 benchmarks have been met. It is unclear whether this includes the EU's demands on biometric passports.
EU-TURKEY MIGRATION DEAL
Visa-free access has been made conditional on Turkey upholding its part of the migration deal struck with the EU, which foresees sending back migrants who reach Greece from Turkey.
Ankara must also treat people who qualify for protection in line with international standards, as well as providing basics such as a right to employment and education.
SUSPENSION OF VISA-FREE ACCESS
Visa requirements could be reintroduced if there is a "substantial and sudden" increase of Turkish citizens illegally staying on in the EU or filing unfounded asylum requests, or if Ankara repeatedly rejects requests to send people back to Turkey under the readmission scheme.
The commission on Wednesday proposed strengthening this suspension mechanism by extending the possible grounds for reintroducing visa requirements and drastically speeding up the process, following a request by France and Germany.