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Turkey not making enough progress to merit visa-free EU travel - source

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkey is not delivering sufficiently on reforms to meet the terms of a migration deal that would allow Turks visa-free travel into the European Union, a senior EU official told Reuters on Thursday, citing an EU Commission report.

The Bosphorus Bridge and the construction site of the new Camlica mosque are pictured at sunrise in Istanbul, Turkey, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Under the agreement reached in March last year at the peak of Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War Two, Turkey committed to preventing Middle Eastern and Asian refugees moving from its territory into the EU, in exchange for financial support and visa-free access for its citizens.

Turkey was doing well on border control but a regular report that the EU executive plans to publish next week will say it is still delaying reforms on “anti-terrorism legislation, party financing, judicial cooperation”, the source said.

Complications around negotiations for the reunification of Cyprus also bode badly for Turkey, the official said.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Wednesday that Ankara expected the European Union to take steps on visa-free travel as soon as possible.

That was dismissed in Brussels as “nonsense” because Turkey was not fulfilling the conditions, the EU official said, noting: “They need to keep up the fiction for their own population.”

The official acknowledged that border management and Turkish support for refugees were “working well” but no progress on visas was expected any time soon because no changes to anti-terror legislation were expected before and in the immediate aftermath of Turkey’s constitutional referendum on April 16.

The referendum - set to give more powers to the president - “poses problems in itself” as “the draft constitution has very serious flaws”, the EU official said.

The EU will not formally comment on Turkey’s constitutional reforms to avoid being seen as meddling with the electoral process, but the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, a panel of law experts, will issue “quite salty” remarks in mid-March, the EU official said.

The official firmly ruled out an EU-Turkey summit being held before the referendum, despite Erdogan’s wish to do so.

At a news conference in Brussels on Thursday, a Commission spokesman gave the bloc’s official line: “Work continues and both the European Union and Turkey remain committed to the March agreement and to the respective obligations.”

Editing by Louise Ireland