Despite the ECJ-ruling: A visa waiver is still possible

Despite the ECJ-ruling: A visa waiver is still possible

The disappointment about the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling is great: The judges decided on Sept. 24 that the visa duty for Turkish nationals is in line with international treaties. The description of “freedom to provide services,” as noted in the Additional Protocol signed between the European Economic Community (the forerunner of the EU) and Turkey in 1970, does not include the freedom for Turkish nationals to obtain services from a member nation, they argued. However, the hopes for a visa waiver are not dead with this landmark decision. After the judicial defeat, a political solution is still possible. What is required now is a stronger commitment of the Turkish government to the visa liberalization process with the European Commission.

On June 21, 2012 the EU-member states mandated the European Commission to start a visa liberalisation process with Turkey in exchange for Turkey’s readiness to implement a readmission agreement that obliges Ankara to take back illegal immigrants who have used Turkey as a transit country on their way to the EU. This was a historical decision given the reluctance of some EU-governments to offer Turkey a visa waiver perspective.

However, the talks soon stagnated because Turkey demanded a simultaneous implementation of the readmission agreement and the abolition of the visa duty. This demand was unacceptable for some governments, for example Germany, which argued that Turkey has to implement the readmission agreement first. This position also corresponds to the procedure which has been applied in the Balkan countries. There, the signing of a readmission agreement was the starting point for a visa liberalisation process, based on a roadmap with a clear set of conditions to be fulfilled in order to abolish the visa duty. The hesitation of the Turkish government to sign the readmission agreement may be based on mistrust toward the EU. The Turkish side voiced the fear of implementing a costly policy in advance without being subsequently rewarded by the visa-free travel for its citizens. However, it is plausible that the hesitation was also partly explained by the hope that the ECJ will rule against the visa duty, and that, thus, the visa-free travel may be achieved without any costly reforms in return.

This hope has been extinguished now with the ECJ-ruling. If the Turkish government is still committed to promoting the visa-free travel of its nationals within the EU, it should now more seriously engage in the visa-liberalization talks with the EU-commission and tackle the benchmarks of the visa roadmap for the abolition of the visa duty, in particular the implementation of the readmission agreement. Indeed, the roadmap conditions are challenging and costly. However, once Turkey has complied with the list of demands, it will be very difficult for the EU-member states to further delay the visa-waiver. This has also been shown by the Balkan precedent. Several EU-member states were against rapid visa liberalization for Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but eventually agreed due to the pressure from the European Commission, which argued that the benchmarks of the visa roadmap had already been fulfilled.

Obviously, a clear commitment of the EU member states to Turkey’s EU accession perspective would increase the trust of the Turkish government that one day visa-free travel will become a reality. This, in turn, would facilitate the implementation of the readmission agreement and other demands of the visa roadmap. However, waiting for more positive signals from the EU would have the consequence that Turkish nationals would have to continue enduring the time consuming visa application procedures. A better alternative for the Turkish government would be the completion of the visa roadmap benchmarks and, thus, exert pressure on those governments in the EU which are against the visa-free travel of Turkish nationals.

*Assist. Prof. Dr. Alexander Bürgin, İzmir University of Economics