Why a visa liberalisation roadmap for Turkey is in the EU's interest
"The time when Turkish people feel least European is when they wait in line for a visa"
Turkey's Chief Negotiator Egemen Bagis
- News: Turkey takes major step towards visa liberalisation (21 June 2012)
- Discussion Paper: Nine reasons for a visa liberalisation process with Turkey (20 June 2012)
- Background reader: Facts and figures related to visa-free travel for Turkey (15 June 2012)
- The New York Times, Susanne Güsten, "Turks Seek Freedom to Travel to Europe Without Visas" (28 June 2012)
- Turkish Policy Quarterly, Alexandra Stiglmayer, "Visa-free Travel for Turkey: In Everybody's Interest" - Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring 2012
- Background paper: How Turkey can get on the Visa White List in Seven Steps (21 March 2012)
- Background paper: How to launch the Visa Liberalisation Process with Turkey. Precedent and the role of the European Commission (20 March 2012)
- Süddeutsche Zeitung, Gerald Knaus, "Ein Fahrplan für die Reisefreiheit" (26 April 2012)
- EUobserver, Gerald Knaus and Alexandra Stiglmayer, "Being fair to Turkey is in the EU's interest" (Also available in Turkish: "Türkiye'ye Adil Davranmak AB'nin de Çıkarına") (12 March 2012)
- ESI newsletters: The time is now: changing EU visa policy on Turkey (13 March 2012), Towards visa liberalisation – Seven steps to 228 votes (22 March 2012), Discussing strategies to get to visa free travel in Ankara (7 April 2012), Smiles and conditions (6 July 2012)
- Media Reactions
We have translated the most relevant texts from the White List Project for the Western Balkans into Turkish: Batı Balkanlar için Schengen Beyaz Liste Projesi (Mart 2012)
Turkey is the only EU candidate country without a visa-free travel regime with the EU. In February 2011, EU interior ministers refused to offer Turkey so much as a promise of a process toward visa liberalisation. This is a source of huge and legitimate frustration for Turks, officials and citizens alike.
Between 2008 and 2010, the EU conducted a successful visa liberalisation process with five Western Balkan countries, abolishing the visa requirement for all of them. Unlike Turkey, none was a negotiating EU candidate country. Today, the EU is in the midst of a visa liberalisation process with Moldova and Ukraine, neither of which has a membership perspective. For Turks, it is clear that – as citizens of a candidate state – they should have been the first to be offered a visa liberalisation process or, at the very least, treated in the same way as Serbia, Bosnia or Albania.
Turks consider the EU's stance on the issue – that the ball is in Turkey's court – as hypocritical. A series of recent court rulings in Germany and the Netherlands have found that Turkish nationals already have the right to visa-free travel to many EU member states due to commitments made by the EU as part of its association agreement with Turkey. So far, the EU and its members have hardly reacted to these rulings. Instead they have kept the visa requirement in place – all while underlining the importance of the rule of law in Turkey and in other enlargement countries.
Turks also feel deceived. In 2010 Turkey negotiated in good faith the text of a readmission agreement with the EU, which the bloc had been keen on since 2002. The negotiations were difficult, but led to a text agreed upon by both sides. Under this agreement, Turkey would commit to take back all Turkish nationals found in the EU without a visa or residence permit, as well as, after a transition period of three years, third-country nationals that have reached the EU via Turkey.
In return for concluding negotiations on this agreement, Turkey hoped to receive the promise of a visa liberalisation process from the EU. Instead, EU interior ministers offered a meaningless "dialogue on visa, mobility and migration". Turks perceived this as the diplomatic equivalent of a slap in the face.
Understandably, these experiences have bred concerns about EU hypocrisy and double standards. The mood of Turkish negotiators has soured and the policy of the Turkish government has hardened. There is little trust left. Since the interior ministers' meeting in February 2011 Turkey has refused to initial the readmission agreement. It has also dismissed the idea that talks about visa facilitation – promising slightly relaxed requirements for applicants – would constitute sufficient progress.
Against this background a number of questions arise. What is the best policy that the Turkish government can pursue to change the status quo? Are there legitimate grounds for concern on the part of EU interior ministers? How can concerns in some EU member states be best addressed in a manner that works for both Turkish and EU citizens?
The ESI Turkey White List Project, which is supported by the German Stiftung Mercator, aims to provide convincing answers to these questions. We believe that the current status quo and the EU visa regime for Turkish nationals serve neither the EU nor Turkey. We also believe that there are tried and tested methods for addressing the EU’s legitimate concerns without discriminating against Turkey and preventing its citizens from enjoying their legitimate right to unimpeded travel.
This website, which will grow over time, seeks to shed light on many aspects of the issue. The document "Is the EU visa requirement illegal?" discusses the legal situation and lists court rulings that have confirmed the right of Turkish citizens to visit the EU without a visa. "The stalemate over the readmission agreement" tells the story of this agreement between Turkey and the EU and looks at the value of readmission agreements in general. We scrutinise "The concerns of EU interior ministers" and look at "Turkey's role in illegal migration to the EU". The document "Seven steps to 228 votes" outlines a possible strategy for Turkey to reach the number of votes in the Justice and Home Affairs Council necessary to lift the visa requirement. We have put together "Facts and figures related to visa-free travel for Turkey" and a collection of documents from the visa liberalisation process for the Western Balkans, both in English and in Turkish. A commentary that we published in March 2012 in the EUobserver summarises it all. This builds on arguments made in a previous report on EU-Turkey relations, A very special relationship.
- Public ESI-USAK event in Ankara: A visa liberalisation strategy for Turkey in 2012 (23 March 2012)
- ESI in Brussels: Restructuring the Turkey-EU Relationship (23 March 2012)
- ESI meeting President Gul and EU ambassadors in Ankara to discuss visa free travel for Turks (22 March 2012)
- Public ESI-TEPAV event in Ankara: how to achieve visa free travel for Turkish citizens (22 March 2012)
- Public ESI event in Berlin: "Besser für beide?" – Visafreies Reisen für die Türkei (23 November 2011)
- ESI in Brussels: Public ESI event at the EPC on visa free travel for Turkey (21 October 2011)
- ESI in Amsterdam: Public ESI event on EU-Turkey relations (13 October 2011)
- ESI in Turkey: ESI launches visa group in Turkey with Giuliano Amato (23 May 2011)
- The Turkish position on visa free travel for Turkish citizens to the European Union (May 2011)
- IKV Visa hotline project
- IKV Soysal report
- Hürriyet, Mustafa Akyol, "Why I am turning my face East" (27 May 2011)
- Sunday's Zaman, "TOBB, İKV lead effort to ease EU visa requirements" (16 November 2007)
ESI is grateful to the Stiftung Mercator for supporting ESI's work on a visa liberalisation process for Turkey