Turkey says it's met EU criteria for visa-free travel to EU

Turkey's President and leader of Justice and Development Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the members of his ruling party at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

ANKARA, Turkey — A senior Turkish official said Wednesday that the country has fulfilled all 72 requirements set by the European Union to secure visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the 28-nation bloc.

Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey had submitted all related documents to EU officials ahead of an EU-Turkey summit in March.

Kalin said he hoped the right to visa-free travel would be implemented in 2018, adding that it would give "a new momentum to Turkish-EU relations."

Visa liberalization was a key part of a 2016 EU-Turkey deal aimed at stemming the flow of tens of thousands of migrants to Europe, but Turkey had failed to meet some of the criteria, including amending antiterror laws.

Kalin said all outstanding criteria had been met, without providing details.

But the European Commission, which verifies compliance, was not so upbeat.

A spokeswoman acknowledged that Turkey's ambassador "handed over a paper regarding the remaining visa liberalization benchmarks" to Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans during talks on Wednesday.

"The Commission will now study the paper carefully," she said, noting that respecting the benchmarks requires "legislative and procedural changes."

Among other requirements, the EU had demanded that Turkey change its definition of what constitutes a "terrorism offense," to ensure that security laws are not used to crack down on the media or academics.

But in light of Turkey's failed military coup in 2016, and with suicide bombers regularly striking Turkish cities, Erdogan could not be seen to be backing down in the fight against extremism.

"Certain arrangements were made in a way that will not pave the way for weakening Turkey's struggle against terrorism, and these were submitted to the EU," Kalin said.

Brussels confirmed Wednesday that Erdogan will meet in Varna, Bulgaria, on March 26 with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, whose country holds the bloc's rotating presidency.

The Commission said the talks will focus on "subjects of mutual interest and recent developments in Turkey. That includes obviously the rule of law and fundamental rights."

The EU is concerned about a media and justice crackdown in Turkey that followed the failed coup and Ankara's military campaign in northern Syria against the Kurds. It is wary, however, of angering a country upon which it depends to limit the flow of migrants into Europe.

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Cook contributed from Brussels.

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This story has been corrected to give the year of the failed coup as 2016 instead of 2015.

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