MEPs have stopped work on plans to give Turks visa-free access to the EU’s Schengen zone, putting a wider migrant deal in doubt.
Group leaders in the European Parliament’s “conference of presidents” quietly suspended work on the file last Wednesday. Some of the lead MEPs on the dossier, the group coordinators in the civil liberties committee (LIBE), found out about the suspension on Monday (9 May).
“They [EP group leaders] decided to stop the whole thing,” the German centre-left coordinator Birgit Sippel told this website on Tuesday.
Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Green MEP, said EU parliament chief Martin Schulz suspended it because Turkey had not yet met all EU visa-free criteria.
“Schulz said we will only start processing the file when the 72 criteria have been met,” she said.
An MEP who did not want to be quoted said he’s also doing it to “make the parliament more important.”
Another said the decision will force the EU commission to first deal with all the outstanding issues in the deal before sending it back to the Parliament.
“The ball is back with the European commission,” said the MEP, who also did not want to be identified.
The European Commission last week proposed to lift the visa requirement by the end of June. It published an assessment on Turkey’s progress and said five out of 72 benchmarks still needed to be met.
Whatever the motives, that proposal is now sitting idly on Schulz’s desk.
If it is not rubber stamped by MEPs and by EU states by the end of next month, then Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to stop taking back migrants from Greece.
Sippel, for one, said the July deadline is unlikely to be met.
“I think no country, whether it’s Turkey or Germany or whoever, could really fufill all the requirements within that short time. It’s not possible, especially if you would like to see something not only written down in paper but also decided in parliament and maybe also at least partly put into practice,” she said.
Erdogan himself is not making matters easier.
The EU commission had said in its visa report that Turkey’s law on terror allows for an “overly broad” application of the term. Journalists and academics have fallen under its scope.
“The Turkish authorities have not yet addressed these shortcomings,” it noted in its report.
Cornelia Ernst, a German MEP from left-wing GUE-NGL group, said “most” members of LIBE think the law must be changed for the visa waiver to go ahead.
But Erdogan has said flat out that he will not do it. He has also forced out of office his EU-friendly PM, Ahmet Davutoglu.
Despite the setback, the EU commission remains optimistic.
“We have an agreement with the Turkish government, we have the word of the Turkish government, and we will continue to work with them,” an EU commission spokesman said Tuesday on Erdogan’s comments.
EU officials said the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal was ongoing.
Playing down concerns that Davutoglu’s exit may upset the accord, an official said the EU started the negotiations with Erdogan and was still talking to him. “It’s never been a one person conversation,” an official added.
There are daily videoconferences between commission officials and Turkish authorities on the five outstanding visa benchmarks, but an official has said that no new benchmarks have been met since the commission’s assessment on 4 May.
According to the latest Frontex figures, on Monday just seven people arrived to the Greek islands via Greece, on Sunday 74, so there is no sign that Erdogan might be trying to put pressure on the EU by letting more migrants cross the Aegean.
Commission officials on Tuesday denied there would be a plan B, as reported in the German media, of turning Greek islands into large refugee camps in case the EU-Turkey deal falls through