(MENAFN - The Journal Of Turkish Weekly) >The European Parliament has halted the process of granting Turkish citizens visa-free travel inside the EU’s Schengen zone, citing five unfulfilled benchmarks Turkey has yet to accomplish.
Speaking at a press conference alongside Turkish EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkr at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where the parliament held talks on whether or not to approve a recommendation report by the European Commission to put Turkey on the list of countries whose citizens are exempt from requiring a visa, EP President Martin Schulz said he had halted the process.
“The draft the European Commission has sent [to the EP and the European Council] rests on 72 criteria. Turkey has not yet fulfilled all of these benchmarks. Therefore, I have halted the process,” said Schulz on May 11, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.
“We cannot start yet, for the time being,” Schulz added.
Schulz added he told Bozkr why he had halted the running of the process at the EP. “From our perspective, Turkey has not yet fulfilled the necessary criteria for the process to be run at the [European] Parliament,” he said. “Therefore preparations for [the] necessary process have not been made.”
While sending the recommendation report to the EP and the European Council on May 4, the European Commission stated that Turkey had not yet fulfilled five benchmarks from the total of 72 needed to be met to be granted visa-free travel inside the Schengen zone, adding that they expected Turkey to fulfill them “urgently.”
The remaining five criteria are the completion of flaws in relation with a new data protection law, which already came into force in early April, operational cooperation with Europe’s police agency Europol, Turkey’s implementation of the Group of States against Corruption’s (GRECO) recommendations to combat corruption, effecting judicial cooperation with all EU member states, as well as amendments to the anti-terror law, which has caused the most controversy between Turkey and the EU.
Hours before meeting Schulz and holding a joint press conference, Bozkr said it was “not possible to accept any changes in the anti-terror law in Turkey,” citing the ongoing terror operations against the outlawedKurdistan Workers’ Party(PKK).
Schulz, on the other hand, said the scope of Turkey’s anti-terror laws were “so far reaching that we think that some of the measures are touching not directly the fight against terrorism but, for example, the freedom of expression and of media.”
Schulz also said the EP needed to “always have an open option for Turkey,” taking into account that there would be decisions met by the Turkish parliament and government.
Meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on May 12 that the deal between would collapse unlessAnkarafulfilled its commitments, including making agreed changes to its anti-terror law.
"We consider that it is important for these conditions to be fulfilled, otherwise this deal between the EU and Turkey will not happen," Juncker told a forum organised byGermanbroadcaster WDR.
"We fixed criteria for visa liberalisation, there are 72 of them and number 65 says that the Turkish government must review the anti-terror law," Juncker said.
"We are counting on this, we agreed this with the Turkish government and it can't be that the exit of the prime minister leads to agreements between the EU and Turkey being ignored," he said, referring to the departure of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutolu.
"We put great value in the conditions being met. Otherwise this deal, the agreement between the EU and Turkey, won't happen. If Mr. Erdoan decides to deny Turks the right to free travel to Europe, then he must explain this to the Turkish people. It will not be my problem, it will be his problem."
Also on May 12, the European Commission said the agreement between the 28-nation bloc and Turkey over migration was not "dead" over Ankara's refusal to change its anti-terrorism laws.
Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Brussels was still working towards granting Turkey visa-free travel to Europe.