BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union's executive recommended that EU governments ease visa requirements for Turkish travelers on Wednesday in an effort to keep a vital migration accord on track in spite of controversies over Turkey's human rights record.
The EU depends on Turkey for a controversial deal that helped sharply cut arrivals of refugees and migrants to Europe since it was agreed in March but which Ankara threatened to abandon should the bloc fail to liberalize visa rules for Turks.
Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters that Turkey, which wants an end to visas by the end of June, had yet to meet five of 72 EU benchmarks required. "There is no free ride here," he said, stressing that Ankara would have to meet standards required of other states exempt from visas.
He also said that the Commission was proposing amending the overall regulation affecting such visa-free schemes to include a new "snap-back mechanism" that would give governments the right to quickly suspend such entitlements if there were problems.
That was proposed last week by France and Germany, both facing public concern about easing visas for 79 million Turks.
At a practical level, however, few if any Turks will be able to come to Europe's Schengen zone in July without a visa since the regulation is limited to those with modern, biometric passports -- which Turkey does not issue at present.
Timmermans insisted that only those Turks with biometric passports would enter without a visa. He said such passports would represent a more secure system than the current procedure in which Turks produce simple, paper passports with their visas.
The move requires the approval of a majority of EU member states and the European Parliament, that will have to balance out containing Europe's worst migration crisis in decades with nervousness of some EU states about easing access to the bloc.
"Turkey has made impressive progress, particularly in recent weeks, on meeting the benchmarks of its visa liberalization roadmap," 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."
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Alastair Macdonald; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)