EU to Turkey: 'No visa-free travel until refugees return'
The EU's top diplomat Federica Mogherini said on Tuesday that Turkey would only get visa-free travel to the bloc once it has met all the required criteria.
Turkey has demanded its citizens be allowed to enter the European Union's passport free Schengen Zone without a visa by June. In exchange, Ankara must take back migrants who have reached Europe's shores from Turkey.
But the EU insists that Turkey must meet 72 conditions before allowing visa-free travel. Ankara is believed to have fulfilled about half of these requirements.
"On free travel, this will be done only once all the criteria are respected, as for all countries with which we negotiate free travel for a limited period," Mogherini said on France Inter radio.
"It was the case with Georgia, it was the case with Ukraine, it is a discussion we are having with Kosovo. There are very strict, technical criteria that must be put in place, a very severe verification must be carried out to apply this measure."
The EU struck the deal with Turkey to send back all "irregular" migrants who arrive in Greece after 20 March in a bid to halt mass migration which has created enormous strain in Europe.
Two sets of deportations expelling 325 migrants from Greece took place three weeks ago, but there has been no movement since.
The operation has been hampered by last minute asylum applications and Turkey has also sounded the alarm several times against the EU failing to keep its side of the bargain.
The accord is awash with legal and moral concerns, and critics have accused the EU of sacrificing its values and overlooking Turkey's growing crackdown on free speech in order to secure the deal.
|On free travel, this will be done only once all the criteria are respected, as for all countries with which we negotiate free travel for a limited period.
- Federica Mogherini
The deal also promises to fast-track Turkey's accession to the EU.
Mogherini said resuming talks on Turkey's accession was "the only way we can help Turkey modernise its state" and to respect human rights, press freedoms, and launch new peace talks with its Kurdish population.
European Council President Donald Tusk said last week that "Europe must set clear limits to its concessions. We can negotiate money, but never our values".
"Our powerlessness could lead to a temptation to blackmail Europe," he warned.
The deal has already sharply reduced the number of people crossing from Turkey to Greece, though the International Organisation for Migration has said the numbers are "once again ticking up", possibly as smugglers get more creative.
If Ankara meets its side of the agreement, the European Commission has promised to recommend next month that EU states approve visa-free travel for Turks.