Turkey continues cooperation with EU on visa liberalization, refugee deal

DAILY SABAH
ANKARA
Published

Turkey will continue to cooperate with EU institutions on visa liberalization, updating the customs union and the refugee deal, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday.

Recalling the two Reform Action Group (RAG) meetings held last year, Çavuşoğlu said the justice ministry continues to work on the judicial reform strategy. He added that the process is being carried out in coordination with the EU and the Council of Europe.

The fifth RAG meeting, hosted by Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül was held on Dec. 12 in Ankara, with the aim of evaluating the ongoing efforts to fulfill reforms and accelerate Turkey's EU process, particularly in judicial adjustments.

At the meeting, Turkey also reiterated its expectations that the EU would keep its promises made as part of the migration deal, particularly on the visa-free regime for Turkey, as Ankara has already fulfilled its own responsibilities.

Çavuşoğlu said that the number of European Parliament members with racist views has increased, and added that ideological approaches have started to outweigh in some European institutions and thereby relations with the bloc should be evaluated by a broader vision. He said that Ankara believes that the anti-Turkish rhetoric in some EU member states would continue prior to European Parliament elections to be held in May.

Ankara has criticized the bloc for a lack of solidarity in the face of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) coup attempt on July 15, 2016, and also for their tolerance of the PKK terrorist group's followers within EU borders.

In 1963, Turkey first signed the Ankara Agreement that foresaw the abolition of tariffs and quotas on goods as part of integration in the customs union with the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor of the EU, acknowledging the final goal of membership.

After a long interim period, Turkey signed the European Constitution in 2004, leading to negotiations for full membership to be launched in 2005, during the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) first term in power. However, the negotiations stalled once again in 2007 due to objections to open chapters by the Greek Cypriot administration on the divided island of Cyprus.

In order to become an EU member, Turkey must successfully conclude negotiations on 35 policy chapters and implement some reforms. In December 2016, the EU member states rejected opening new chapters.

Also, in March 2016, Brussels and Ankara reached an agreement to take stricter measures against human trafficking, discourage irregular migration over the Aegean Sea and improve the conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. The agreement also promised acceleration in Ankara's EU membership process and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals to the Schengen zone, provided that Ankara fulfills a list of 72 criteria set out by Brussels.

Common projects

for Syrian refugees

Despite slow progress in accession talks, Ankara and Brussels have been working on a number of projects together to provide assistance to Syrian refugees.

Commenting on the education of migrant children, The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides praised the agreement inked by Turkey and the EU, adding that important steps have been taken for Syrian refugees as part of the agreement. "Especially Syrian children in Turkey had the chance to return to school again. I think this is one of the most important pillars of our cooperation," Stylianides said. He also commended Turkish nongovernmental organizations' role in assisting Syrians and educational support given by the country to refugee children.

Since the civil war emerged in the country in 2011, Turkey has been providing conditional education support for children in both Turkish public schools and temporary education centers. Speaking at the exhibition "Faces of Civil Society in Turkey" on Tuesday, EU Deputy Miltiadis Kyrkos also told Anadolu Agency (AA) that his purpose of organizing the exhibition was to "give the Europeans the message that Turkey has many faces which are at an enviable level." The event, which included stands by Turkish nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the European Parliament building in Brussels, will be open to visitors until Jan. 11.

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