ANKARA: Turkey said on Wednesday it had fulfilled all conditions on visa-free travel to Europe, adding it hoped Brussels would respond and lend "momentum" to better ties between Ankara and the EU.
As part of a controversial agreement signed in March 2016, the EU offered Ankara billions of euros and visa liberalisation in exchange for Turkey stemming the flow of migrants after Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. But Turkey has long been irritated that Brussels has not yet approved visa liberalisation because of its continued calls for Ankara to reform its anti-terror laws.
"The 72 criteria for visa-free travel have been completed," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters in Ankara, saying Turkey had informed the EU. "We hope and expect that this will add new momentum to Turkey-EU relations."
Kalin hailed the development, saying "from today we can say there is a new process". Kalin did not elaborate on how Turkey intended to satisfy the EU on anti-terror laws. His comments came after European Council chief Donald Tusk’s spokesman said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would meet top EU officials next month in Bulgaria.
Relations between the EU and Turkey have taken a nosedive since the July 2016 failed coup as well as Brussels’ continued objections to Ankara’s crackdown. Over 140,000 people have been suspended or sacked over alleged links to coup-plotters.
Membership talks that officially began in 2005 have stalled since the coup bid, to the chagrin of Erdogan who previously said the wait was "exhausting". "If this is secured, the perception of the EU will change in Turkey without a doubt," Kalin insisted, adding Turks have long deserved the right to access the Schengen zone without the need for a visa.
According to Metropoll research company, 51.7 percent of Turks surveyed in January said Turkey should not become an EU member, compared with 35.5 in supportof it. Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron said Turkey should renounce its ambition of becoming amember of the EU and settle instead for a looser "partnership". But Erdogan told an Italian newspaper this week that Turkey rejected such proposals, saying Turkey wanted full membership and urged the EU to "keep its promises".