Turkey Offered Soothing Words by EU on Visa-Free Travel Hurdles

  • European Commission promises ‘practical solutions’ to impasse
  • Tensions ease as Ankara upholds refugee-control agreement

The European Union held out a carrot for Turkey as the country seeks to qualify for visa-free travel to the bloc and upholds an accord to stem refugee flows, saying the remaining conditions can be met with “practical solutions.”

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said the Turkish government must still fulfill seven requirements -- including narrowing anti-terrorism legislation -- out of a total of 72 to win hassle-free travel to Europe.

In an e-mailed statement on Wednesday in Brussels, the commission said it is seeking with Turkey “to find practical solutions for cooperation and progress to secure the legislative and procedural changes needed.” It said the goal is for Ankara to meet all the conditions “as soon as possible.”

Political tensions over Turkey’s demand for EU visa-free status have eased since Turkish officials backed away from a threat to link that prize to an agreement in March on curbing the influx of Mideast refugees into the 28-nation bloc. Under the deal, irregular migrants who enter the EU in Greece are sent back to Turkey and Syrian refugees in Turkish camps are resettled in Europe.

In recent weeks, the Turkish government has signaled that it will continue to uphold the March 18 refugee pact even without the EU visa waiver. Turkish officials have instead said that Ankara won’t take part in any future plan to stop the entry of migrants into the EU unless the bloc grants Turks visa-free access.

Other unfulfilled conditions for the visa waiver relate to the use of biometric passports, the fight against corruption, judicial cooperation with EU nations, deeper ties with European law-enforcement agency Europol and data protection.

In its statement on Wednesday, the commission said the refugee agreement six months ago has led to a “sharp and continued decrease” in refugee crossings from the Turkish coast to Greece and pledged to speed up the delivery of EU migrant aid for Turkey promised as part of the deal. Of the total 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in pledges, 3 billion euros are due this year and next.

The amounts contracted total 1.25 billion euros and disbursements have reached 467 million euros, according to the commission.

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