— The European Union
authorities proposed visa-free travel in the bloc for Turkish citizens
on Wednesday, a significant step for the group of 28 nations as it struggles to come to terms with the migrant crisis and hew to its humanitarian values.
An accord reached on March 18, in which the bloc pledged to introduce visa waivers by the end of June, has helped bring the bloc’s migrant crisis under greater control, but that deal prompted widespread criticism that it neglects human rights and rewards President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
The proposal from the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, could be modified and still needs approval from a majority of the bloc’s national governments and the European Parliament. The commission also took two other steps — it proposed changes to a quota system for asylum seekers, and recommended keeping in place some internal European border controls for at least another six months — as part of a package that represents one of the most comprehensive efforts to manage the migrant influx.
Here are some of the questions surrounding the debate in Europe over how to deal with the migration crisis.
Why is Turkey a central player in the migrant crisis?
More than one million migrants reached Europe last year, and the route across the Aegean Sea to Greece
from Turkey, though not without risk, is one of the most direct for many migrants to reach the Continent.
Cooperation with Turkey — which shares a border with Iraq and Syria
, the homeland for a significant portion of migrants fleeing war and conflict — has been the most effective way to cut off the influx from the Middle East
The flow of migrants to Greece has slowed markedly since the accord with Turkey took effect. “The E.U.-Turkey Statement has clearly yielded results,” Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, wrote on Twitter. “Average daily arrivals in Greece now low 100s, not 1000s.”
However, there has been an increase in migrants using the more hazardous Central Mediterranean Sea route to Italy
, although most of them are from Africa
What does Turkey want?
Visa-free access to Europe is widely sought by citizens and the leadership in Turkey, which aspires to European Union membership. It also provides a feather in the cap of Mr. Erdogan and other Turkish leaders who extracted significant concessions from the European Union.
The March 18 deal called for Turkey to receive about $6.6 billion to help organizations look after the migrants there; to accept the return of most migrants and refugees who travel across the Aegean to Greece, to remove an incentive to make the journey to Europe; for the eventual resumption of negotiations on Turkey’s membership to the European Union; and the promise that the European Union would resettle one Syrian from a camp in Turkey for each Syrian who used an irregular route to reach Greece, a measure that would decrease the burden on Ankara
Even if the visa-waiver proposal is ultimately approved, the chances of mass arrivals from Turkey appear slim. To qualify for entry, Turkish citizens would be required to hold passports that contain fingerprint and facial data embedded on a chip — passports that Turkey will not start producing until June.
What is the source of E.U. resistance to a deal?
The extent to which the European Union is willing to compromise its principles in pursuit of a migration deal is a source of significant unease.
Offering Mr. Erdogan a political prize like visa waivers strengthens his appeal and confers legitimacy even as he pursues actions that cannot be reconciled with the bloc’s views on human rights.
Turkey is cracking down on freedom of expression, threatening minority groups and members of the opposition, and it has pressured Germany to prosecute a comic who ridiculed Mr. Erdogan while in Germany
Turkey must still fulfill five of more than 70 requirements laid down by the commission before its citizens can qualify for visa waivers. The most difficult benchmark for Ankara to complete could be revising laws and practices to balance the fight against terrorism with respect for human rights, and the European Parliament said on Wednesday that it would not vote on the proposal until all of the requirements are met.
“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,” Mr. Timmermans said on Wednesday.
Why is the ‘Dublin Regulation’ important, and why is it being changed?
The Dublin Regulation, which requires refugees to register in the European Union country in which they first arrive, penalizes countries by geography: It places a disproportionate burden on front-line states — namely Greece, but also Italy and Malta — to accommodate migrants.
The new rules would require other member states to accept a certain number of asylum seekers when those front-line states are overwhelmed.
Because previous attempts to enforce the relocation of migrants have largely failed, the European Commission is proposing financial sanctions that would require countries that refuse to participate to pay €250,000, or about $290,000, for each refugee they do not accept as part of the quota (or “corrective allocation”).
Changing the Dublin rule could also ease human rights concerns, because migrants seeking to move northward across Europe to destinations like Germany have been effectively trapped in inhospitable conditions. There are nearly 58,000 stranded migrants and refugees, mostly in Greece.
Can the Schengen border zone be saved?
The European Union authorities have made saving the Schengen area, which allows passport-free travel through much of the bloc, a priority.
The European Union’s strategy is to allow for temporary suspensions of the open-border policy, for six months at a time, to restore it entirely at a future date.
Right now, the prospect of another migrant influx makes open borders for some countries untenable. So Brussels is making an effort to reassure those countries that they can put checks in place if the influx is revived.