On 26 March 2014, the Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg decided that Turkish businesspeople have the right to enter Germany without a visa in order to provide services to persons within the framework of their business activities. This ruling, once Germany complies with it, will extend the categories of Turkish service providers who can enter Germany visa-free. These categories have so far included truck drivers, members of ship and airplane crews, mechanics repairing or maintaining machinery in Germany, artists, scientists and professional sportspeople. Other Turkish citizens have to obtain a short-stay visa at a consulate before they are allowed to cross into Germany and other Schengen zone countries.
Visa-free access for Turkish service providers goes back to a provision under a protocol to the 1963 EU-Turkey Association Agreement. This provision prevents the two parties "from introducing between themselves any new restriction on the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services." Several German courts and the European Court of Justice, in a 2009 landmark ruling, determined that the German visa requirement for Turkish citizens is a "new restriction" because it did not exist in 1973 when the protocol entered into force (Germany introduced the visa requirement for Turkish citizens in 1980). The courts found that Turkish service providers have therefore the right to visa-free entry to Germany. Germany subsequently changed its visa rules. By analogy, other EU member states are also affected by the ruling, but so far only the Netherlands and Denmark have lifted the visa requirement for Turkish service providers.
The court in Berlin has now clarified that Turkish businesspeople also enjoy the right to visa-free access to Germany if they provide services to persons within the framework of their business activities. According to the lawyer of the claimant, this means that Turkish business people can enter Germany without a visa to meet business partners, attend or participate in fairs, and offer goods and services.
Some Turkish experts hoped that Turkish citizens can, step by step, obtain visa-free travel through court rulings that widen the circle of Turkish citizens with a right to visa-free access to the EU. However, last September a case before the European Court of Justice dashed their hopes. In this case, the claimant argued that Turkish tourists, as recipients of services, are covered by the freedom to provide services protected by the protocol to the Association Agreement. The European Court of Justice rejected this interpretation. ESI reported widely about this case before and after the ruling:
- ESI report: Turkish tourists and European justice. The Demirkan ruling and how Turkey can obtain visa-free travel (26 September 2013)
- ESI call to action: After the Demirkan ruling: launch visa liberalisation dialogue now (24 September 2013)
- ESI briefing paper: On the eve of judgement day – the ECJ and the Demirkan case (22 September 2013)
On a positive note, Turkey has other ways to obtain visa-free travel: through a formal EU-Turkey visa liberalisation process, which was launched on 16 December 2013. With funding from the Stiftung Mercator, ESI has contributed to the launch of this process and supports it through various activities. For more information, see our website: Turkey – the European vision.