Last two days for historic Turkey-EU visa accord
Güven Özalp – BRUSSELS/ANKARAThe forthcoming two days mark a crucial 48 hours for Turkey to come one step closer to having its citizens granted visa-free travel inside the European Union, as part of the Turkey-EU migrant deal reached to curb the flow of migrants into the bloc.
In the deal reached in mid-March, the EU pledged to grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel from July onwards, provided Ankara meets the 72 necessary criteria.
Turkish EU Minister Volkan Bozkır said on April 28 that Turkey would fulfill all 72 criteria required to ensure visa-free travel by a May 4 deadline, when the European Commission will decide on whether or not to recommend Turkish citizens to be exempt from visa requirements for travelling inside the EU’s Schengen zone.
Bozkır’s remarks came before parliament was temporarily closed until May 2 due to a fierce brawl that erupted during a constitutional commission meeting that was discussing legislation on lifting lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution on April 28, which left five deputies injured.
Turkey will try to compensate for the time lost due to the closure of the parliament and try to pass the remaining clauses. But even if Turkey passes all of these, it is technically not possible to meet of the 72 criteria.
Turkey’s full application of the readmission agreement is one of the 72 criteria but this will not be finalized on May 4 as it will enter into force on June 1.
Due to the reciprocity clause, Turkey implementing visa-free travel to EU citizens is one of the other criteria but this will not start to be implemented on May 4, as Turkey intends to put this clause into force on June 30, when the EU pledged to lift the visa-restrictions for Turkish citizens on condition of all criteria being met.
Turkey has sent an official commitment to the EU that it will implement the remaining criteria that cannot be met before May 4, to be implemented when the respective times come.
European Commission officials believe that Turkey at this stage has fulfilled 60 criteria.
In the last two days before the May 4 deadline, Turkey aims at increasing the fulfilled criteria number to 67 or 68.
Turkey is of the belief that a positive recommendation will come out of the European Commission if it reaches its goal of passing the laws in parliament until May 4, while there is also a cautious positive attitude on the side of the European Commission.
The Commission’s technical approval for visa liberalization is of crucial importance but the process does not end there. The European Parliament and the 28 member states at the European Council will need to politically approve of this decision.
Turkey foresees the political approval process being harder than the technical one at the Commission and therefore gives utmost importance for a recommendation report that does not contain any “cracks.”
Speaking in Istanbul on April 30, Bozkır said that Turkey had fulfilled the responsibilities that fell on its side, adding that people were asking whether or not the EU would sidestep from their pledge.
“I tell them, there are only 50 days left to the end of June. We will see if they sidestep or not,” said Bozkır, adding that Turkey had fulfilled all the criteria it had projected and these were also “beneficial clauses for the country.”
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for speedy visa liberalization for Turkey.
“The EU would be well advised to meet their obligations, and of course Turkey too. These include the promised visa liberalization as soon as Ankara has fulfilled the necessary conditions,” Steinmeier said in an interview the with Welt am Sonntag published on May 1.
“All should comply with already reached agreements,” he added.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu warned on April 28 that there would be no migrant deal with the EU if visas are not lifted for Turkish citizens as agreed in the Turkey-EU deal.
As part of the deal, Turkey agreed to take all migrants back that reach Greece from March 20 onwards, in exchange for the EU taking one Syrian refugee for every migrant Turkey takes back.
European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said on April 28 that the EU executive would not lower its standards to offer visa-free travel to Turks in exchange for Turkey’s help in preventing migrants reaching Europe from its shores.
Timmermans also said Turkey’s crackdown on the media and reported human rights abuses were pushing the country further away from Europe even as it hopes to join the European Union.
EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said on April 26 that “the real litmus test” for Turkey in terms of relations with the EU would be accession negotiations if the country truly wants to become a member of the 28-member club.