Turkey and the European Union have signed an agreement allowing EU governments to send back illegal immigrants crossing into Europe from Turkey in a move highlighting a thaw in relations with the 28-member bloc.
At a ceremony in Ankara on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, also signed an accord to enter into discussions on dropping visa requirements for Turks visiting Europe.
can contribute to building trust and can lead to new types of cooperation”]
The agreements are a fresh sign of improved ties between Ankara and the EU after they began a new round of membership talks last month following a three-year hiatus.
“A new process in Turkish-EU relations is beginning,” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech at the ceremony.
“With our signatures today, the European doors are being opened for visa-free travel by Turkish citizens.”
Turkey has provisionally closed just one of 35 chapters it must negotiate with the EU to bring its laws into line with the 28-nation bloc’s standards. It has 13 other chapters open.
“This autumn there has been a new launch in relations … [The agreement] can contribute to building trust and can lead to new types of cooperation,” Malmstrom told the Reuters news agency.
Erdogan rejected what he said was an impression in Europe that Turks would surge into the EU if requirements were lifted.
“If EU visas are abolished, neither Turkey nor EU member countries will experience the slightest problem … We are coming to take on a burden, not to be a burden,” he said.
Talks on the “readmission agreement” to send back illegal immigrants had been stalled for years, largely due to Turkish distrust over the EU’s willingness to ease visa rules.
Turkey lies on a major route for illegal migration into Europe from Africa and the Middle East, and some in Western Europe fear Turkish membership would widen the bloc’s borders too far to the fringes of Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Malmstrom said the number of irregular migrants travelling into Europe from Turkey had been steadily falling to around 20,000 this year from more than three times that number in 2010, partly due to better border cooperation with Greece and the economic crisis making Europe less appealing.