23:45 GMT23 February 2020
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    The European Commission's Report on Turkey, issued on April 17, 2018, has prompted a storm of criticism from Ankara, as it has yet again postponed granting the country EU visa-free travel benefits. Speaking to Sputnik, former Minister of European Union Affairs Egemen Bagis stressed that Brussels risks alienating Turkey.

    The European Union is consciously or unconsciously alienating Turkey and pushing it to seek new alternatives to the bloc, former Minister of European Union Affairs Egemen Bagis told Sputnik Turkey, commenting on the recent EU Progress Report stating that Ankara has yet to accomplish 7 out of 72 criteria necessary for visa liberalization.

    The ex-minister denounced the EU double-standard policy on granting the Schengen visa benefits: "I wonder what specific criteria have been met by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) so that their citizens gained the right to move freely across the Schengen zone," Bagis asked rhetorically.

    The Turkish politician called attention to the fact that Bulgaria and Romania joined the European bloc despite significant violations of human rights taking place in these countries.

    "During my tenure [as minister of EU affairs], I suggested: 'Let's organize a two-hour trip to both countries [Turkey and Bulgaria] from the Turkish-Bulgarian border and compare the situation with respect to human rights there.' This proposal remains relevant today, as it reflects the current situation."

    The decision to ease the visa regime for Turkish citizens kicked off in 2016 as a part of the EU-Turkey refugee agreement, which was aimed at preventing the influx of migrants from the Middle East to the European bloc. The deal, which was signed on March 18, 2016, envisaged providing Turkey 6 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in financial aid, as well as visa-free benefits for Turkish citizens.

    However, according to Deutsche Welle, there are a number of contradictions between Ankara and Brussels over the agreement. For example, the European Commission (EC) previously reported that it had transferred 3 billion euros to Turkey and decided in March 2018 to make available the second installment of 3 billion euros. For its part, Ankara claimed that it had so far received only 1.85 billion euros from Brussels. The media outlet specifies that "financial assistance from the EU fund reaches Turkey through projects," stressing that "the aid is not delivered to the government's coffers."

    On the other hand, on February 7, 2018 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, announced that Turkey had completed all of the European Union's 72 criteria to receive visa free travel to the bloc. Still, the EC has its own opinion on the issue.

    The EC's "Key findings of the 2018 Report on Turkey" read that Ankara should immediately lift the state of emergency declared in the wake of the attempted coup of July 15, 2016, adding that in this context, the April 2017 referendum in Turkey raised serious concerns.

    "Under the state of emergency, the Parliament's key function as legislative power was curtailed, as the government resorted to emergency decrees with 'the force of law' to also regulate issues which should have been processed under the ordinary legislative procedure," the document said.

    The EC's fact sheet also emphasized that the situation in Turkey's south-east remains one of the country's most acute problems, referring to the long-standing conflict between Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey.

    Among other issues, the document criticized the country's judicial system as well as the situation with respect for human and fundamental rights.

    "As regards the implementation of the Visa Liberalization Roadmap, at the beginning of February, Turkey submitted to the European Commission a work plan outlining how Turkey plans to fulfil the seven outstanding visa liberalization benchmarks. The Commission is assessing Turkey's proposals and further consultations with the Turkish counterparts will follow," the fact sheet pointed out.

    Commenting on the EC's report, Cengiz Candar, Turkish author and journalist, noted in his op-ed for Al-Monitor that it was "like the final nail in the coffin of Turkey's long-running bid for acceptance."

    The journalist noted that Ankara was "quick to respond" to what French diplomat Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador in Ankara called the "Turkey Regress Report."

    "Unfortunately, the European Commission showed that it was once again unwilling to understand the difficulties of the period we are passing through. Although we have explained these issues repeatedly supported by documentation, the Commission was unable to be objective and balanced," the Turkish Foreign Ministry's statement said.

    However, the ministry noted that "despite all the negativity in the EU's approach, EU membership continues to remain [Turkey's] strategic priority."

    The views and opinions expressed by Egemen Bagis are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Tags:
    migrant crisis, visa-free deal, visa-free regime, European Commission, European Union, Turkey, Europe
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