No rush to EU expected after lifting of visas for Turkish citizens
Barçın Yinanç - email@example.comVisa-free travel to Europe could become a reality by June as Europeans are not expecting a big rush from Turks, according to Economic Development Foundation (IKV) head Ayhan Zeytinoğlu. Only around 10 percent of Turks are holders of passports, so the biggest impact of visa liberalization is most likely to be psychological, Zeytinoğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News in an exclusive interview.
What do you think about the recent refugee deal between Turkey and the European Union?
Initially we were cautious. At one point there was talk that the EU funds earmarked for Turkey’s accession process would be used in the refugee crisis solution, so we stressed that cooperation on the refugee crisis and Turkey’s accession bid should be kept separate without one affecting the other. We now understand that they will be separate.
I think Turkey negotiated well. It was right to tie the implementation of the readmission agreement to visa-free travel to Europe. Initially we were supposed to start implementing the readmission agreement in June while visa liberalization was foreseen for October or perhaps even later. But it was right to make both at the same time.
We were also right to ask for additional financial assistance until 2018. We all know that the actual cost for Turkey is much higher. If we didn’t have to spend so much on the refugees Turkey would probably not even have a budget deficit. The government has said we are spending $10 billion per year on refugees, while the budget deficit last year amounted to $7.5 billion.
We have been following the media reports in Europe and unfortunately there is an impression that we are blackmailing the EU. But that is really not the case; we’re talking about burden sharing.
Visa liberalization is an important issue. The European Commission published a report on March 4 and said there are still shortcomings in 46 necessary criteria, including border security and making passports more secure. But I believe all of these can be fulfilled if there is the political will ... Obviously we can’t turn black into white in one night. One of the important aspects of the deal is that Turkey will have to impose visa regimes on third countries with which we have visa-free travel agreements. This won’t be easy, but none of it is impossible.
In the meantime Turkey also wants to revive its EU membership accession process. Just as we will be exerting a lot of effort, it is our right to ask the EU to lift its veto on currently blocked chapters.
Finally, for each refugee we take back we are asking the EU to take one Syrian refugee. I think this measure will do a lot to stop the tragedy of deaths in the Aegean because I think Syrians will stop trying to go to Greece in boats if they know that they will simply all be returned to Turkey. The fact that a NATO force will be there will also be a deterrent factor.
Many criticize the deal. They believe it will be very difficult to implement.
On the visa issue, Turkey had until October to fulfill the criteria. Of the 72 criteria, there are still 46 to be fulfilled. It seems both sides believe this can work. Bringing the date forward to June complicates things, but it was important to make it simultaneous with the implementation of the readmission agreement. It was also necessary to explain this to Turkish public opinion.
On the financial aspect, Greece had immediately been granted 500 million euros for the 100,000 refugees it is hosting. So what Turkey is asking for is not too much when you think in terms of burden-sharing.
On opening new chapters, if the EU genuinely wants to see Turkey as a member then it may well be justified in making certain criticisms on the state of democracy and the rule of law. But on this it should open the related chapters and tell us to do our homework. Just as opening chapters is in their hands, so is closing them once the work is complete. Opening the chapters does not mean they will be automatically closed. I see dishonesty here.
The refugee crisis has shown how Turkey and the EU need each other. Even if you build walls in Greece some will still come and dig holes in that wall.
Let’s talk about visa liberalization. To what degree is it realistic? Will Europe accept it?
According to the European Commission report, no rush is expected from Turkey. The report underlines that only a small fraction of visa requests are turned down. Studies show that there will not be a huge flow of Turks looking to settle in Europe.
There will certainly be a certain number who will go to join their relatives in Europe and stay there. But conditions both in Europe and in Turkey are different now. Conditions in Turkey have improved.
I am confident that visas can be lifted. 78 million people are not going to go to Europe in just one night. Not everyone is even a passport holder in Turkey. I don’t think that those who do not have passports will suddenly say, “I’ll get a passport and go to Europe.”
In addition, Turkish passports will have to change. They will have to become more secure. People will then start applying for new passports, which will also take time. So even if visas are to be lifted in June, the number of people who will go to Europe will be limited at first.
Only 10 percent of Turks are passport holders. Why is the issue so important for Turkey?
It is like a ban being lifted. In all public opinion polls that we conduct, we see that the visa issue affects people’s views. Our people have very bad feelings as far as the current visa regime is concerned. It is symbolic. It will be significant for the government to be able to say it was able to lift the visas and it will have a big political importance.
Overall this issue will have a multiplier effect and it will positively affect the general approach in Turkey to the European Union.
What do you think about the revival of relations with the EU?
The EU is one of our main partners. In fact it is our relationship with Europe that is keeping Turkey on its feet. We have recently lost many of our most important markets: Russia, Iraq, Syria. There is potential with Iran but I think the Europeans will enter that market much faster than Turkey. And I’m not sure to what degree we’d be able to stay in that market.
The reality remains that most of our foreign direct investment comes from Europe. The moment our relations improve with the EU we will see an increase in foreign direct investment.
The EU asked Ankara to allow Syrians to work in Turkey and the government moved to provide work permits for Syrians. What is your view on this issue as an industrialist?
We asked the government to allow Syrians to work long before the EU brought the issue to the agenda. For us an issue of utmost importance is security. Having so many people unemployed could have created security problems.
Who is Ayhan Zeytinoğlu?
IKV Chairman Ayhan Zeytinoğlu studied business administration at the University of Indiana in 1980 following the completion of his BA studies in London. He completed his master’s degree in international finance at Butler University in 1985.
In 1986, Zeytinoğlu started working in his family enterprise. Currently, Zeytinoğlu is working as the general director of Zeytinoğlu Feed & Pet Food Inc. He is also the vice-president of the board of directors at Autoport Terminal Operators.
In 1989 he became a founding board member of the Chamber of Industry of Kocaeli. In 1995, he was appointed as its vice-chairman and in January 2009, as its chairman.
He is currently acting as chairman of the board of directors of the Chamber of Industry of Kocaeli following his reelection in May 2013. Furthermore, Zeytinoğlu is also acting as a delegate at the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey’s (TOBB) general assembly. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Turkish American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TACCI).