European Commission recommends granting visa-free travel to Turkish citizens
The European Union's executive commission has recommended that Turkish citizens be allowed to travel to Europe without visas on short holidays and business trips, a major step towards fulfilling a key part of an agreement with Turkey to deal with the migrant crisis.
The European Commission said Turkey has met most of the 72 criteria needed for a visa waiver, and it invited member states and EU politicians to endorse the move by June 30.
Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said "there is still work to be done as a matter of urgency but if Turkey sustains the progress made, they can meet the remaining benchmarks".
Turkey must fulfil the final five criteria before the visa waiver is approved.
The move is part of a package of incentives offered to Turkey - including up to six billion euro (£4.7 billion) in aid for Syrian refugees and fast-track EU membership talks - to persuade Ankara to stop migrants heading to Europe and take thousands back from Greece.
That deal has raised legal and moral questions, as EU nations unable to agree among themselves about how to handle the refugee emergency chose instead to outsource it to Turkey, where almost three million refugees are staying, most of them people fleeing war in Syria.
Visa liberalisation, which must come by June 30, would be an important sign that the Europeans are living up to their promises.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that the whole agreement will collapse if the EU reneges on any pledge.
Once the visa proposal is endorsed, only Turkish citizens with biometric passports including facial and fingerprint data would be allowed to enter, Mr Timmermans said.
Visa-free travel would be possible in all EU member states except for Britain and Ireland, which have provisions for opting out of such policies, and would include four members of the Schengen passport-free travel area; Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
In a separate move, the commission proposed that EU countries refusing to accept refugees under new proposals to overhaul the EU's failed asylum laws face fines - dubbed a "solidarity contribution" - of 250,000 euro (£197,000) for each asylum seeker rejected.
The penalties are part of a new plan to more evenly share the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict and violence in places such as Syria, with the current asylum system on the verge of collapse.
The plan still has to be accepted by a large majority of member countries - around two-thirds under the bloc's qualified majority system - and EU politicians. The fine will prove controversial as some countries already vehemently oppose the current EU scheme to share 160,000 refugees in Greece and Italy. Hungary has even moved to hold a referendum on the issue.
Under present EU laws, people seeking international protection in Europe must apply for asylum in the country where they first arrive. That effectively means Greece and Italy have been overburdened, and many of their EU partners have failed to help them cope.
The new scheme would kick in automatically once a country comes under high migration pressure. Other member states would take in a share of any asylum seekers - not people trying to escape poverty or looking for jobs - calculated from each nation's population and economic strength based on gross domestic product.
But members could choose not to take part for 12 months.
"The member state which temporarily does not take part in the corrective allocation must make a solidarity contribution of 250,000 euros per applicant," according to the text, which is a draft legal proposal to EU states and the European Parliament.
A new EU asylum agency would also be set up and be responsible for supervising the way the whole system is working.