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All eyes on Brussels and Turkey visa deal

Nicosia insisted on Monday that as long as Turkey does not fulfil its obligations to the EU, including Cyprus, visa restrictions for Turkish nationals cannot be abolished, even as Brussels was set to drive forward with the deal this Wednesday.

The European Commission is widely expected to rule that Turkey has broadly met the conditions despite the fact that, according to the Financial Times, nine of the 72 conditions are still outstanding.

A senior EU diplomat belittled any suspense around the conditions, telling Reuters: “This is just a joke. We have already made the decision.”

Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides told public broadcaster CyBC on Monday that all prerequisites must be met to abolish visas for Turkish citizens visiting EU countries.  “There can be no different treatment for any member state,” he said.

Among these criteria, he said, was the visa-free travel of Greek Cypriots to Turkey in the same manner as any other EU citizen.

If Ankara, continued its tactics in not recognising the Republic of Cyprus and did not comply, “visa restrictions for Turkish citizens cannot be removed”, Christodoulides added.

On Wednesday, the European Commission is to present member states with the third assessment on Turkey’s compliance with the 72 criteria which will be then discussed at national level.

The final say, Christodoulides said, lies with the European Council, but the approval of the European Parliament is required, since the adoption of the abolition of visas is a legislative act.

He added that Nicosia was assessing developments on a daily basis, and that there had been some meetings already on technocratic level.

According to sources cited by the CyBC correspondent in Brussels, nothing has changed as regards the EU’s position, in that Turkey would not receive special treatment when it came to its obligations. It said however that those concerning Cyprus were expected to be discussed at a later stage.

DISY leader Averof Neophytou said on Monday it would not be easy for Turkey to fulfil the 72 prerequisites. “It is not a matter of a few weeks,” he said.

The problem, he added, was not Cyprus “but whether the Germans or the French would ever accept such a decision under which 80 million Turks would move freely within Europe”.

Cyprus, Neophytou said, was the “alibi” for some countries within the EU who are “possibly being accommodated on various issues”.

“As regards our relationship with Turkey, our positions are clear. Turkey has very clear obligations towards Cyprus. If Turkey behaves responsibly and assists in practice to a just solution of the Cyprus problem, we will cease to have problems with the neighbouring country,” he said.

“As long as Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus and does not act in a way that is conducive to achieving a speedy solution of the Cyprus problem, it should not look forward to Cyprus’ support on any issue, be it opening of chapters, or visa-free travel,” Neophytou said.

The Financial Times (FT) reported on Sunday that nine of the 72 criteria had not been fulfilled and that an updated report would be issued in mid-June on those still pending.  The move is part of a crucial deal with Ankara to stem the migrant flow to Europe.

The FT said the aim now was to put pressure on Ankara “to rush through the measures before the European Parliament and EU member states vote on final approval in late June”.

As part of the deal, the FT said, Turkey must also issue visa waivers to 11 EU countries and drop discriminatory measures against citizens of Cyprus. “This is expected through a decree that comes into force once Turkish visa rights are granted,” the FT reported.

The most difficult of the unmet conditions, the FT said, include bolstering Turkey’s data protection rules to cover certain security agencies, revising terrorism legislation to better protect minority rights and anti-corruption measures that would increase transparency on political funding in Turkey.

“This is all a nightmare,” one diplomat involved in talks told the FT. Another European diplomat described the Turkey-EU deal as carrying “the seeds of its own destruction”.

The FT reported that France and Germany had called for a wide-ranging “emergency brake” to be attached to the Turkey deal, so it can be revoked under certain circumstances. “Although some in the commission are open to the idea, it will not be included in the legal proposal in case it appears as if additional special requirements are being required of Turkey”.

Turkish legislation to meet European Union criteria on visa liberalisation will be completed on Monday, Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Volkan Bozkir said last Thursday.

Bozkir also told broadcaster NTV he expected the EU Commission to recommend the lifting of visas for Turks travelling to Europe in a report this week.

A Reuters report from Brussels on Sunday said that despite deep public misgivings in some countries, the EU would drive forward with the plan.

“We have not lowered our standards. Turkey has raised its game,” a senior EU official familiar with the negotiations told the news agency.

He was seeking to explain how the EU executive could certify compliance after telling lawmakers just two weeks ago that Ankara had met fewer than half the so-called benchmarks.

The political reality is that Brussels cannot say “No” and risk a collapse of a much criticised March 18 EU-Turkey deal that was a turning point in Europe’s migration crisis, Reuters said.

“It may lack political support to sustain a “Yes”, but the Turkish government won’t take “Later” for an answer,” it added.

“So in the time-honoured EU manner, the Commission will present a package aimed at offering something for everyone.”

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has warned that Ankara would stop implementing its side of the bargain to take back all those who reach Greece from its shores if Europe does not deliver on what he calls its commitment.

EU officials insist the union made no promise, and the offer applies only if Turkey meets the 72 legal and technical conditions.

“This is a great opportunity for Europe to show it is a reliable partner and make it clear that they don’t apply double standards when it comes to predominantly Muslim European nations such as Turkey,” a government official in Ankara said.

Sceptics in the European Parliament and key member states such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, where there is substantial public opposition to opening borders to more Turks, insist they will examine Turkey’s compliance with a microscope.

“There will be no refugee discount,” said Manfred Weber, leader of the centre-right group in the European Parliament from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian sister-party.

“We’ll look cool-headedly in parliament at whether Turkey has fulfilled the conditions for visa liberalisation.”

Officials and diplomats say there is huge pressure to push visa liberalisation through, notably from Germany, which was the main destination for about a million refugees and migrants who entered the EU last year and would be among the first to suffer if the accord with Turkey broke down.

To make acceptance more politically palatable, Germany and France this week proposed tougher safeguards to allow any EU state to suspend visa-free travel from any country for six months in case of a sudden increase in asylum requests, overstays or readmission refusals.

Turkish EU ambassador Selim Yenel told Reuters his country could live with that provided Turkey was not singled out.

“Apparently, the Franco-German proposal aims at appeasing the possible fears of some EU nations and perhaps make it easier to win the support of some members states,” Yenel said.

“We are not worried about these proposals but believe that the current safeguards are sufficient already.”

EU officials and diplomats believe no member state will ultimately halt visa freedom for Turkey, recalling that all 28 EU leaders signed up to the agreement with Ankara in March.

They are a bit less sure about the European Parliament, which can be a law unto itself.

Turkey has not made the decision easier by prosecuting critical journalists at home, arresting or barring some foreign reporters, and demanding that Germany prosecute a television satirist for insulting President Tayyip Erdogan.

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