Eurosceptics have reacted angrily to a proposed deal between the EU and Turkey. In return for Ankara agreeing to take back migrants arriving in Greece, Turkish citizens will benefit from visa-free travel to the EU.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage, whose party is using Turkey’s EU ambitions as a major argument for Brexit, says the “catastrophic” action “will only encourage more economic migrants” to Europe. But visa-free travel provides relatively limited options for Turkish citizens, while the deal places far-reaching obligations on Ankara and offers a potential solution to the chaos of irregular migration to the EU. What’s more, the UK and Ireland are exempt from the visa-free travel deal.
The EU is offering to accelerate existing negotiations on visa liberalisation with Turkey, with the aim of lifting visa restrictions “at the latest by the end of June 2016”. In practice, this would allow Turkish citizens to travel to the EU for 90 days at a time, within any 180-day period, for “business, touristic or family purposes”. There’s no right to live or work in the EU, and the agreement only applies to Schengen zone countries.
Turkey, in turn, has agreed to waive a clause (Art 24.3) of a 2014 readmission treaty with the EU which meant Ankara didn’t have to take back citizens from third countries until 2017. Although the EU has controversially offered under the deal to relocate migrants in Turkey to EU member states, irregular migrants sent back to Turkey from Greece will drop to the bottom of the queue. The EU hopes the proposed deal will encourage migrants to stay in Turkey and end the “pull” factor for people boarding boats to Greece.
As well as tying Turkey into new readmission obligations, the visa liberalisation “roadmap” includes 72 criteria it must fulfill before visa-free travel is agreed. These range from immigration criteria such as document control and border security, to public order and Turkish citizens’ rights. The European Commission also has to assess the migration and security impact of relaxing visa restrictions on Turkish passport holders.
Although the visa-free travel deal for Turkey does not apply to the UK, it could on some estimates contribute as much as £500 million to help Ankara keep its side of the bargain. The UK stands to gain a lot from easing the migration crisis. Stopping the uncontrolled – and often poorly documented – irregular migration into Europe enhances UK security. Easing pressure on Greece, reopening the Schengen borders and preventing humanitarian tragedy in the Aegean are also all in British interests.
Eurosceptics’ other major gripe over the proposed deal is that it fast-tracks Turkey’s EU accession. This is nothing more than scaremongering. The agreement would open a few more “chapters” of issues which Turkey must address before membership. However, since its EU application in 1987, Ankara has managed to close just one chapter out of 35. The suggestion that Turkey might be in the EU by the early 2020s is extremely fanciful.
Edited by Michael Prest