Turkey may join visa-free list as EU struggles to save migrant deal
BRUSSELS - The EU hailed progress in curbing migrant flows from Turkey Wednesday following last month's landmark deal, vowing to propose visa free travel for Turks next month if Ankara meets its obligations.
Brussels made the announcement after Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned that Ankara could tear up the agreement if the European Union did not implement the visa pledge.
"Today the (European) Commission published the first report on the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement. I am pleased to say that progress has been made," EU migration commissioner Dimtris Avramopoulos said during a press conference.
"We have already seen a sharp drop in the number of people crossing irregularly the Aegean from Turkey into Greece, which means the activities of smugglers in the area have been hit."
The report on the March 18 EU-Turkey deal said that the Commission would present a visa recommendation on May 4.
"If Turkey takes the necessary measures to fulfill the remaining benchmarks, the report will be accompanied by a legislative proposal for transferring Turkey to the visa-free list," it said.
The commission also urged Turkey to do more to improve conditions for migrants.
"Further efforts are required by Turkey to make sure that those who need international protection receive the kind of support they most require," the report said.
Under the deal Turkey agreed to take back all migrants arriving in the Greek islands, in an effort to relieve the pressure on the European Union that saw one million migrant arrivals since early 2015.
In return the EU promised to resettle one Syrian refugee for every Syrian taken back by Turkey, to grant visa-free travel to Turks within the border-free Schengen Zone and to reassess Turkey's stalled EU membership bid.
But the EU insists that Turkey must meet a long list of conditions before allowing visa-free travel, a step that many rightwing politicians in Europe have seized on amid growing fears about immigration.
Turkey has expressed growing anger about what it sees as more European dithering.
The issues are coming to a head as Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials prepare to travel Saturday to the Turkish city of Gaziantep close to the Syrian border to discuss implementation of the migrant deal.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the European Union Tuesday it needs Turkey more than Ankara needs the bloc.