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EU Enlargement Chief: No 'Discount' For Turkey On Visa Liberalization

EU 'Treating Everyone Equally' On Visa Liberalization
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WATCH: EU Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn speaks with RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Prague on May 3 about visa liberalization.

PRAGUE -- The European Union's top enlargement official says that Turkey will not get an easier ride than Ukraine, Georgia, and Kosovo in securing a liberalized visa regime with the 28-member bloc.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL in Prague, Johannes Hahn, the EU's commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, dismissed claims that Turkey would be granted the visa waiver faster than the other three countries as a quid pro quo for Ankara's help in stemming the flow of refugees and migrants into Europe.

"We are, so to say, treating everybody equally," Hahn said. "This means we have applied the same methodology for Ukraine, Georgia, and also for Kosovo. And the same applies for Turkey."

He added, however, that visa liberalization depends on how quickly "our partner countries" will "move forward and comply with our requirements."

"In that respect there is no…discount for Turkey to get something cheaper than the others, because it is about certain standards which have to be met," Hahn said.

His comments come one day before the European Commission is expected to announce that Turkey has lived up to most of the criteria to enjoy a visa-free regime with the EU, despite not having completely met all of the required benchmarks.

Brussels struck a controversial deal with Ankara in March in which Turkey vowed to step up its efforts to prevent migrants from leaving Turkey for the EU and to take back migrants who have already have crossed the Aegean Sea for Greece.

In exchange, Turkey would receive financial compensation and the possibility for Turkish citizens to enjoy a liberalized visa regime with the EU by the end of June.

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The swift movement on the visa deal has irked Ukraine and Georgia as they watch Ankara leapfrog them in the visa queue.

The European Commission said in December 2015 that Ukraine and Georgia had met all the conditions for visa-free travel, including stepped-up efforts to fight corruption, and that the two countries would get a positive recommendation in the spring of this year. At the time, Turkey and Kosovo lagged far behind the ex-Soviet nations on the path to visa-free travel to the EU.

Tbilisi and Kyiv did were granted positive recommendations in March and April, respectively, but Turkey now looks like it will be fast-tracked. Kosovo, meanwhile, is set to get its positive recommendation on May 4.

Hahn said he hopes that Georgians, Ukrainians, and Kosovars will be able to travel without visas to the EU in 2016 "because they have done their work."

"Of course, finally there is always a political assessment. But in terms of, so to say, meeting the standards, qualifying themselves, they have done what is necessary," he said.

It will now be up to the European Council and the European Parliament to approve the visa waiver for all four countries.

"I think there should be a joint treatment of at least these three countries, maybe including Turkey," Hahn said.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.