EU sees substantial progress in Turkey's visa liberalization proposal

EU sees substantial progress in Turkey's visa liberalization proposal

The European Union considers Turkey's new proposals on visa liberalization as progress in the positive direction, according to a report in German media.

In an article in the German daily Die Welt, which attributed the remarks to a high ranking EU official, the EU Commission said in an internal evaluation of Ankara's proposals regarding the visa liberalization process that the new proposals represent "substantial" progress.

The Commission is expected to submit its assessment to the Turkish government this week and at the same time it will call for improvements on three points. The German daily claimed that Brussels is calling for even more "proportionality" in Turkish counter-terrorism legislation, as well as further efforts on data protection and the cooperation agreement with Europol.

The commission expects the Turkish government to fulfill the requested improvements in the next two weeks for EU Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker to attend the planned EU leaders meeting in Varna, Bulgaria on March 26, to which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is also invited.

The Die Welt article contends that the Turkish government plans to get the visa liberalization approved in the European Parliament (EP) by February 2019.

"The aim of Turkey is that the European Parliament gives the go-ahead for visa liberalization by the end of February next year. In any case, Ankara wants to prevent a newly elected EU parliament from having to vote on it, which would significantly delay negotiations," it further said.

The EU gave Turkey a list of 72 criteria to fulfill for visa-free travel for Turkish nationals after the two sides signed an agreement in March 2016. The 28 EU member states and European Parliament must also approve the visa scheme.

Aside from visa liberalization, the EU pledged to provide financial aid for refugees in Turkey and to accelerate EU membership talks. The EU has said that Turkey has completed 69 of the listed criteria, but needs to change its terrorism laws.

The visa liberalization process has been put on hold for a long time after relations between Turkey and the EU deteriorated to a great extent.

However, the normalization process recently paved the way again for the visa-free travel scheme to gain pace. Ankara has previously warned Brussels that it would stop fulfilling its side of the migrant deal, which has seen a sharp fall in the number of migrants making the dangerous crossings across the Aegean Sea, if it does not keep its promises.