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Prague against dropping of visa requirement for Turkey unless requirements met

 
photo:  (radio.cz)
 

The European Union should only offer Turkey visa-free travel if all requirements are met, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka tweeted on Tuesday ahead of a recommendation by the European Commission. The EC has recommended visa-free travel be granted to Turkish citizens in the passport-free Schengen zone, so long as the country fulfills key remaining requirements. Ahead of the announcement, unease in the Czech Republic over the matter – not only by the parties in government but also in the opposition – was high.

 
 

The abolition of visas for Turkish citizens to travel to the Schengen zone, in other words 26 of 28 EU countries, was one of the requirements agreed in a deal in March for Turkey to take back migrants who had crossed the Aegean to Greece. Now that push has come to shove, many lawmakers in numerous EU countries are feeling considerably more nervous. Ahead of the Commission’s recommendation on Wednesday, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, the head of the Social Democrats, tweeted that Ankara would have to meet all necessary requirements before a dropping of visas could be considered.

Among the criteria to be fulfilled? Guaranteed freedom of speech, a fair judiciary and the protection of minorities. The second-largest party in government, ANO, also insisted all of the requirements would need to be met. The opposition Civic Democrats argued earlier that visa-free travel for Turkish citizens represented a security risk. Turkey shares an 822 kilometer-long border with war-torn Syria, a border described as porous and incapable of preventing the movement of jihadists who could now gain even easier entry to the EU.

The Czech government is also deeply dissatisfied with the European Commission’s plan to push for fines on EU countries which refuse migrant quotas; the Commission on Wednesday officially proposed changes to the current asylum rules which would introduce tough penalties on countries not willing to take “their share”: 250,000 euros per each migrant refused. The document, entitled Towards a sustainable and fair Common European Asylum System, spelled out a fairer system based on solidarity, something which critics of the Czech Republic have said the country was lacking.

From the outset, the Czech Republic was against migrant quotas but agreed to take immigrants under a share out. Paradoxically, even some immigrants who came to the country voluntarily have already left. Efforts to provide a new start for a handful of Christian families from Iraq, for example, recently ran aground when a number of them travelled to Germany instead. As a result, the programme specifically tailored for them was cancelled by the government.

Politicians in government and the opposition ahead of Wednesday expressed opposition to punitive measures (where under the plan the funds would go to countries currently bearing the brunt of the migrant crisis such as Italy or Greece). Critics, however, charge the Czech Republic is missing the point: one of solidarity and responsibility which should be shared by all members in the European Union. Which direction matters will develop is anybody’s guess but this much is certain: when it comes to Turkey and visa-free travel, the issue is a pressing one. Turkey said on Wednesday in reaction to the EC announcement that it had “already met” most of the criteria required. And if Ankara doesn’t get its way? There are fears that Turkey could tear the agreement with the EU up, an agreement regarded as working so far.

 
Author: Český rozhlas Radio Praha
 
Added: 04.05.2016
 
 
 

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