Visa Free Europe, a Utopia for Turkey? December 27, 2010Posted by Yilan in EU, Turkey.
Tags: EU, Europe, Turkey
Journal of Turkish Weekly conducted an exclusive interview with Ceren Mutus, USAK expert on Turkey-EU relations, on visa free travel.
Q: By the adoption of the Ankara Agreement in 1963 provision was made for extensive freedom of travel to Turkish people within the European Community’s countries. It is stated that this was considered a helpful tool to commit Turkey more to Europe. As by the 1980s first Germany and one by one other members introduced strict visa requirements, could one say that marks a shift in Europe’s Turkey policy?
At the outset, it should be noted that the visa issue constitutes one of the main stumbling blocks in Turkey-EU relations. The long-standing problem which has legal, political, economical and social dimensions has begun to dominate the parties’ agenda in recent years, especially after the European side introduced a concrete link between visa free travel for Turkish citizens and signing of a readmission agreement which envisages the return of illegal third country nationals to Turkey. This attitude can easily be considered as the EU’s ignorance of the ECJ’s visa-related precedents, confirming the vested rights of Turkish citizens deriving from the Turkey-EU Partnership Law and the Union’s intention to keep Turkey outside borders as a buffer zone for illegal immigrants.
At the time when the Ankara Agreement was signed between Turkey and the EEC in 1963, there was no visa requirement for Turkish citizens who wished to travel to European countries. Accordingly, in line with this visa-free policy, the Agreement included key provisions that guarantee freedom to provide services and freedom of establishment in the long-term. Moreover, the Additional Protocol signed in 1970, introduced the well-known standstill clause (article 41), which prohibits the introduction of any new restrictions related to the above-mentioned freedoms after the entry into force of the Protocol.
However, the political instability in Turkey after the military coup in 1980, the substantial increase in number of Turkish asylum seekers and the deepening of family reunification problem in some prominent EU countries resulted in the introduction of the visa requirement under the leadership of Germany, the most affected EU country from the migration flow. In the following years, Turkey was listed as one of the third countries whose nationals were required visa to travel to the Schengen countries. Despite the customs union relationship between Turkey and the EU since 1995 which envisages the free movement of goods, the producers of those goods are not able to travel freely and accordingly face unfair competition.
The EU’s strict visa policy towards Turkish nationals raises question marks about its sincerity and commitment with regard to Turkey’s full membership. Having in mind that integration between peoples, economies and cultures are among the most prominent goals of the negotiation process, the visa requirement appears to be a powerful obstacle in this sense. If the EU is sincere about Turkey’s membership and wishes for a more intensive cooperation in terms of struggle against illegal immigration, it should make some positive steps. Otherwise, it will be unrealistic to expect from Turkey to sustain the current state of relations forever.
Q: In November the European Union announced to provide Turkish citizens with more visa flexibilities in case the bilateral readmission agreement concerning the return of unwanted third country immigrants would be finalized successfully. Can we talk of blackmail in this case?
Since 2002, the EU has made similar proposals to other third parties which are considered to be important source and/or transit countries for illegal immigrants. For instance, Western Balkan countries have gone through such processes. Their nationals were granted visa-free travel just after the signing of readmission agreement with the EU. However, Turkey cannot be evaluated in the same context with any of these countries. Turkey is a negotiating country for 5 years, an important economical partner for the EU and its demands about visa-free travel are far beyond the EU’s proposal. And these just demands stem from Turkey-EU Partnership Law and the rulings of the ECJ in favor of Turkish nationals.
On the other hand, Greece’s approach to the issue is interesting as it creates link not only between readmission agreement and visa-free travel but also between readmission agreement and Turkey’s full membership. It argues that as long as Turkey hesitates to sign the readmission agreement with the EU, Greece will not be willing to support the accession process. In my opinion, this attitude can be considered as blackmail and it is unacceptable for Turkey. At this point, we should add that the 24th chapter on Justice, Freedom and Security is among the 18 chapters that have been blocked by South Cyprus due to political considerations. If EU wants Turkey to be on her side in struggle against illegal immigration, it should firstly remove this barrier.
Q: A particularly serious case is Germany. Its visa requirements for Turkish citizens have been sentenced to be in breach of community law and the EC-Turkey Partnership law by the European Court of Justice in 2009. Did Germany implement considerable modifications after this ruling had been delivered?
The ECJ’s Soysal decision in 2009 resulted in adoption of a new regulation by Germany. In June 2009, it released an official statement announcing that it would ease the visa procedure applied to Turkish nationals and widen the scope of Turkish nationals who would be able to enter Germany by “simply” providing a visa exemption document. However, several critics may be directed to this new arrangement.
First of all, the right to travel Germany freely was only granted to a very limited group of people such as driver personnel and ship/plane crew members engaged in international transport of goods and passengers, those who will make a presentation or performance that is of great artistic value, those who will make a presentation that is of great scientific value or those professional sportsmen who predominantly earn their living from this profession. Another noteworthy point is that the new regulation prescribes a condition requiring the commercial activity to have a special value. However, the regulation does not determine the competent authority that will evaluate this very subjective condition. Another critique that can be directed is that it requires a bunch of official documents to obtain a visa exemption document. To sum up, this method inevitably reminds one of an ordinary visa system and Germany, as one of the core countries of the Union, should align its visa regulation with the ECJ’s decisions. Besides, although Germany was the direct addressee of the Soysal decision at that time, it should not be forgotten that the ruling is binding on each EU member states. Thus it is the responsibility of each EU countries to do the necessary amendments in their domestic laws.