Turkey’s EU visa move just a beginning
One of the most important developments of the past week was the step taken by Turkey aimed at helping to secure visa-free travel right for Turkish citizens to the EU’s Schengen zone countries.
A paper detailing Turkey’s roadmap for the fulfillment of the remaining seven benchmarks of 72 benchmarks for visa liberalization in return for the implementation of the Readmission Agreement was submitted to EU Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans on Feb. 6.
Of these seven benchmarks, the one that suggests an amendment to Turkey’s stringent anti-terror law may be particularly important, as it was because of this article that negotiations between Ankara and Brussels could not be finalized back in 2016.
According to reports, a provision will be added to the current anti-terror law stating that “any critical expression that does not exceed the boundaries of journalism does not constitute a crime.” Ankara hopes that this provision will fulfill the required benchmark on the anti-terror law.
An EU official told me that the EU Commission will now study the paper carefully.
“In general, the Commission has continued to encourage Turkey’s efforts to complete the delivery of all the outstanding benchmarks of the Visa Liberalization Roadmap as soon as possible. It has engaged in dialogue with Turkey to find solutions, including the legislative and procedural changes needed on all outstanding benchmarks,” the official added.
The paper, which was jointly prepared by Turkey’s foreign, EU, interior and justice ministers, was submitted to the EU after receiving President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s approval. It therefore reflects the will of the country’s highest authority to further engage with the EU, and could be taken as a commitment of the Turkish government to broadening the boundaries of freedom of expression in Turkey.
This may be the first time in a very long time that Turkey has taken a concrete step towards the EU, and it seems very much in accordance with the government’s recently adopted policy of rapprochement with the EU after a very rocky period.
The EU-Turkey summit due to be held in Varna, Bulgaria on March 26 with the participation of President Erdoğan, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk could mark a peak point of mutual reconciliatory efforts by both sides.
However, this should be regarded as just a beginning. Turkey needs to do more in terms of democratic reforms through concrete measures to upgrade its democracy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms.
A tough recent resolution adopted at the European Parliament reflects the EU’s general overview of the human rights situation in Turkey. This should be taken as an important message if Turkey’s real intention is to revive and implement its EU agenda.