Ending visa talks with Turkey ‘stupid mistake’

Ending visa talks with Turkey ‘stupid mistake’

Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
Ending visa talks with Turkey ‘stupid mistake’


Abandoning visa liberalization talks with Turkey, as suggested by some EU governments, would be a stupid mistake, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has said, advising the re-scheduling of the implementation of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens as an October deadline is no longer realistic. 

He also called on Turkey to return to normalcy as soon as possible and end the state of emergency when possible, advising the country to continue with a period of national dialogue by including the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as well. 

Gentiloni made the comments in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News during a trip to Turkey.

Here are the questions and answers from the interview with Gentiloni.

As far as I understand, this is a visit to show the Italian people and Italian government’s solidarity with the Turkish government and people. But don’t you think it’s a little late? 

I think we were, in fact, not late, because, a few hours after the [attempted July 15] coup, the voice of our government – the Italian government – the other European governments and the United States were very clearly supporting the Turkish institutions against the coup. And, personally I called my colleague a few hours after the coup. And what I understand is that in Turkey, the fact that, immediately after the coup, several critiques of the post-coup developments from European governments were perceived as insufficient awareness of the seriousness of the coup attempt, of the danger that the Turkish institutions were [facing] and so on. 

I am not saying we were late, but I understand the perception here. And we want to eliminate this perception. We are aware of the seriousness of the danger that was [faced] by Turkish institutions, but at the same time, obviously we are stressing the importance of the fact that the Turkish institutions need to return to normal functioning. The sooner the better. So, we need to end the state of emergency when possible. It is not our decision but obviously the sooner the better. We hope that the dialogue between the government and the political parties, all the political parties, including the HDP go on, in the interest of stability and cohesion.

It was possible to defeat the coup attempt thanks to the people who took to the streets on that night. So, from this perspective, how would you describe Turkish democracy? Do you think it is a kind of a symbol that Turkish democracy is becoming more mature?

Well, the reaction of the people was the demonstration of the fact that there is a strong attachment to democracy and to institutions. It’s a fact that all the parties shared in the mobilization against the coup, even the parties that share almost nothing with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan. But they were defending the institutions. This, I think, is something we should underline and put in as evidence. 

How do you assess the government’s reaction in the aftermath of coup attempt? There are growing concerns over mass dismissals and in some cases, the imprisonment of academics, teachers and journalists although they did not physically take part in the coup attempt. 

My opinion is that – I repeated yesterday as well – the goal should be to restore as soon as possible the normal functioning of justice. Turkish authorities underline that what they call the FETÖ [Fethullahist Terror Organization] was very huge and they had a presence in different institutions, from the judiciary to universities, to even the diplomatic [corps], the military and whatever. It is true that our knowledge of this organization was very low in Italy. Especially we only knew something about the existence of Mr. [Fethullah] Gülen but not so much of this. But also we have a more limited diaspora in our country, and I know from my colleagues from other European countries that they have a significant presence of this organization in their countries. So, we understand this description. It is a very huge presence, and we had to face this presence in several sectors of society, but at the same time, the persistence of a state of emergency limiting the rule of law and the normal functioning of the institutions is, I think, something negative that should be overcome. In any case, it will finish in January as far as I understand because the law does not allow one to go further.

No, it can be extended as much as you want.

Ah, you can extend it forever. I hope that will not be the case.

Do you think delaying the process to restore normalcy in the country will also cause problems between Turkey and the European Union?

The problem was already there because, as you mentioned before, there was a significant misunderstanding in the post-coup period. We worked in the last weeks to make two concepts clear. One is that we are not under-evaluating the threats against Turkish institutions and if this was the perception, we are ready to change this perception. I think this is also the reason for so many visits in recent weeks. And second, this does not change the fact that the EU means commitment to the rule of law, commitment to civil rights, commitment to freedom of the press. This is not a matter of discussion. These are our principles. And obviously in the dynamics of the relations between the EU and Turkey, these principles will be kept. So, it is not an easy double message. But I think that our Turkish partners and friends did understand this double message. We are supportive, but this does not mean that we are denouncing our message.

One immediate issue is Turkey-EU visa liberalization and ensuring the continuity of the March 18 migrant deal. There are concerns that the October deadline for the visa liberalization will not be met. Do you think it can be solved?

In the post-coup situation, some political parties and even some governments in the EU asked that the process of visa liberalization be stopped, saying that what happened in Turkey after the coup was a clear demonstration that the visa liberalization perspective was unrealistic. So, some political parties and some governments asked for a termination of this perspective. We are strongly convinced that this would be a stupid mistake and that this goal should be maintained. Then, having said this, we all know that this goal is connected to the European perspective, to the certain number of prescriptions that should be fulfilled before delivering visa liberalization. Will this happen this month? That is very difficult, to be clear. I think everybody is aware in Europe and in Turkey about that. 

So, what should we do? Abandon this goal and this perspective? It would be crazy and a mistake. We have to reschedule, but this is a matter of negotiation between Ankara and Brussels.

What would you say on the ongoing Syrian crisis?

Perhaps I could only add one thing because it was discussed yesterday in our meetings. I give some hope to the possibility that the Turkish government could play a role in clarifying to Russia about the necessity of stopping what [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad is doing in Aleppo. I know that President [Vladimir] Putin is coming to visit Istanbul, and I think we have a common interest in this, and I include even potentially Russia’s interest. If we can all together use our influence, including the Turkish influence, to put pressure on Russia to refrain from accepting this kind of behavior from al-Assad, I think this will be a very interesting and important possibility diplomatically.