None of Turkey’s 75 million people however will be eligible to come to Ireland or Britain as the visa liberalisation will apply only to the 26 country Schengen area.
The draft package for Turkey includes unlocking stalled negotiations on their joining the EU in exchange for strengthening their borders and taking back anybody illegally entering the EU from Turkey.
About half the 710,000 migrants coming into the EU this year came through Turkey, mainly into Greece. This was a six-fold increase over last year, exacerbated by newly introduced visa free travel from some African states.
Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said that “Turkey was key” to resolving the huge flow of migrants, mostly fleeing conflict in Syria and Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In late night talks in Ankara, Commission vice president Frans Timmermans drew up the draft agreement, in time for last night’s summit in Brussels where EU leaders were asked to give it political agreement.
Most prime ministers at the meeting appeared prepared to give it their blessing some with less enthusiasm than others. The Cypriot leader cancelled his trip to the summit and instead asked Greece to represent him. Cyprus is the most antagonistic towards Turkey over the island’s division, but agreement requires just majority decision.
Greek prime minister Alexi Tsipras was quite positive. “Greece is ready to co-operate with Turkey, always on the basis of international law and the integrity of the accession process”, he said.
The EU is ready to name Turkey a country that is safe to fast track the return of unsuccessful asylum seekers, which they were reticent to do previously because of human rights abuses including of Kurds and efforts by President Tayyip Erdogan to give himself more powers.
Now they will be expected to take back their own and third country nationals that illegally cross into the EU, while the Turks will operate a number of reception centres with EU aid to process refugees.
Turkey was due to get visa-free status at the end of next year, provided they completed a list of reforms including setting up asylum procedures. About 1.5 million Syrians are in Turkey, around 300,000 of them in camps and the rest scattered around the country.