Turkey will miss an end of June deadline to meet the EU’s conditions for securing visa-free travel throughout the Schengen zone. This was confirmed by the European commission following the issuing of a progress report on the controversial migration deal. The next report is due in September.
In March, EU leaders struck a deal with the Turkish government promising visa liberalization, progress on EU accession talks, resettlement of 54,000 * Syrian refugees and to deliver €6 billion in funding. In exchange, Ankara was asked to help stem the flow of refugees into Europe and take back irregular migrants. However, this deal was contingent upon Turkey meeting 72 EU-conditions on border security and fundamental rights.
The European commission announced on Wednesday that Turkey has yet to meet some of the conditions, including changes to its counter-terrorism legislation. Number 65 on the list – is a call for “the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression.” In Turkey, that is increasingly a problem – In March, the government seized control of the country’s biggest newspaper, Zaman.
In a separate part of the deal, EU representatives are expected to approve the opening of negotiations on one part of the Turkish EU membership. The talks will focus on budget and were intended to be a symbolic gesture that was promised under the migration deal. The progress of Turkey’s accession has further inflamed the ‘Brexit’ debate, which is expected to be voted on next week.
“We’ll go our way, You go Yours”
Doubts about the pending visa deal peaked when Erdoğan unseated his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who led negotiations with the EU in March this year. In response to the EU’s request for Turkey to rewrite its anti-terrorism laws, he said: “We’ll go our way, you go yours.”
The decision to delay the visa deal was announced one day after the EU’s ambassador to Turkey resigned. Hansjörg Haber, is due to leave his post in August, after making statements about the migration deal that agitated the Turkish government.
Concrete Results Have Been Achieved, but Progress is still “Fragile”
The European Commissioner on Migration and Visa Policy, Dimitris Avramopopoulos, is optimistic that Turkey will ultimately meet the requirements. “I believe the migration crisis is bringing Turkey closer to Europe,” he said. That withstanding, he declined to specify when the deal could be finalized.
The report illustrated concrete results but revealed implementation challenges highlighting the fragile state of the migration deal. Since the EU forged the migration pact with Turkey in March, the number of migrants making the dangerous journey to Greece has fallen sharply. Fewer than 50 people a day risked the Aegean Sea crossing in May on average compared to daily arrivals of up to 2,000 at the start of the year.
The report mentioned that the pace of returns for irregular migrants from Greece to Turkey is slower than expected. The pace of returns is due to the time needed to deploy and train asylum experts and set up working area for processing asylum applications. In terms of EU resettlement from Turkey to the EU – So far, 511 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Europe from Turkey, under the one-for-one scheme. Around 462 migrants, including 31 Syrians, have been sent back to Turkey from Greece.
A senior human rights advocate at the Council of Europe said the EU-Turkey deal has put a strain on Greece’s ability to process asylum claims. This statement is confirmed by Wednesday’s report. The council, which is not an EU body has sharply criticized the EU-Turkey deal. In April, the council issued a report stating that the EU-Turkey agreement “at best strains and at worst exceeds the limits of what is permissible under European and international law”.
The council concluded by stating: “Even on paper, it raises many serious questions of compatibility with basic norms on refugees’ and migrants’ rights. It has so far given every indication of being even more problematic in practice.”
Despite doubts and concerns, Avramopoulos has taken a hard position on seeing the migration deal to fruition – Even threatening to shame country leaders who resist taking in refugees. Although progress is slow, what effect does the decrease in migration flow having on those who still seek to enter the EU?
*Number as of 28 April 2016