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EU tensions as Turkey set to get visa waiver

If the European Commission makes the recommendation this Wednesday that Turks be granted visa-free travel in Europe’s Schengen area as whispers from well-placed EU sources suggest, then it will do so holding its nose and its breath.
The freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial and revising terrorism legislation to better protect minority rights – these are just some of the criteria demanded by the EU of countries before it lifts visa requirements – even for short-term travel.
It’s hard to see how Turkey could be described as meeting those conditions. Ankara increasingly cracks down on its critics in a manner more autocratic than democratic.
In fact, Turkey has not fulfilled quite a number of the criteria required by the EU. But these are desperate times.
The European Commission and most EU governments are under huge public pressure to ease the migrant crisis.
And a deal-breaker for Ankara to take back potentially every migrant now trying to cross over the Aegean to Europe was visa-free travel by the end of June
The EU fears if the visa agreement slides, so will Turkey’s commitment to stop migrant crossings.
‘Squeezing concessions’
My sources say the European Commission will therefore keep to the agreed script.
“There is huge motivation on all sides,” I was told, “and Turkey has made a tremendous effort now to meet the required standards.”
But, they insist, this is no blank cheque. Turkey will get the green light over visas this week – to keep it sweet – but it will also be informed of the outstanding criteria it still needs to meet.
The European Commission will then issue another progress report within the month, they say.
It all sounds very much like the good old EU tradition of kicking the can down the road.
This particular can could hit a brick wall soon, though.
EU member states and the European Parliament are scheduled to vote on Turkey visa liberalisation towards the end of June.
They can block it.
A senior source at the European Parliament told me on Monday that MEPs hugely resented Turkey “squeezing concessions out of Europe now that it’s the most popular guy in town, because of the migrant issue”.
Many MEPs also worry about the EU potentially closing its eyes to Turkey’s human rights record in haste to stop the flow of migrants.
“If the vote was tomorrow, parliament would say ‘No’,” my source told me.
Right-wing populists
Many EU leaders also oppose lifting visa restrictions for 75 million Turks.
They fear their voters would punish them for it.
Right-wing populist forces are gaining strength across Europe on the back of the migrant crisis.
A worry in Germany, for example, is that Turkish nationals being granted three months visa-free travel to Europe could result in Turkish Kurds claiming asylum in their thousands.
Germany is already home to a sizeable Kurdish (and Turkish) community.
Mainstream politicians fear the Alternative fuer Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) party would make huge gains off the back of a Turkish visa deal.
The right-wing populists re-launched themselves this weekend on an platform of protest against Islam in Germany .