A few brave men... and women locked on EU target

A few brave men... and women locked on EU target

When I tried to organize a workshop on EU-Turkey relations a few years ago, I was criticized by my colleagues, an academic working in southern Antalya’s Akdeniz (Mediterranean) University told me recently.“ Are you a spy of the EU? Are you making money off that?” I was asked some times, she said.

Be aware of the fact that there is a significant crowd in Turkey dedicated and committed to Turkey’s accession to the European Union.

There have been times when nothing seemed to be moving on the political level between Ankara and Brussels...

There have been times when, boosted by overconfidence fueled by short-term success stories, Turkish officials bashed Europeans and sought membership in organizations like the Shanghai Five..

There have been times the EU’s popularity has nosedived in Turkey.

During all these times, these people remained committed to improving Turkey’s norms and standards by keeping locked on the EU target.

It is thanks to them, especially the ones in the bureaucracy, that visa-free travel to Europe will be possible, in what many believe cannot be realizable in such a short time. Fulfilling the 72 criteria by June looks like mission impossible.

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether all the criteria will be met and whether there will be political will on the part of Europe to lift the visa requirements.

But let me remind that if the government is saying today that the majority of the criteria will be met by April, this is not because a miracle has taken place since March when Turkey and the EU finalized the refugee deal, which put the date for visa-free travel from October to June.

In fact, the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the “readmission agreement and visa liberalization dialogue” was already signed in December 2013.

But work opening the way to that MoU which is actually part of Turkey's integrated border management strategy which came to the agenda within The  accession process had started in mid 2000's.

Turkey’s border management is highly complicated since it involves at least a dozen different institutions sharing responsibility. While Turkey’s “EU bureaucracy” pushed for intra and inter reforms, the officials in those institutions resisted change. And as enthusiasm about EU accession started to diminish, the government did not force down reforms.

The start of the war in Syria eliminated whatever chance remained to reform border management, which now included a 700-km-long border on a war zone. 

But in the mid-term it revived dialogue on the issue between Turkey and the EU, since the increasing amount of jihadist and refugee crossings started to preoccupy European capitals.

That’s when the two sides agreed in 2013 for Turkey to sign and implement the readmission agreement in exchange for visa-free travel.

You might wonder why the deal was not implemented in the course of these past three years. First, precisely because the criteria to be fulfilled could not have been met in a matter of months. So work that started by then paved the way forward. The directorate for migration for instance which will play a critical role in the refugee deal was established in April 2013.

But second, both Turkey and the EU dragged their feet, as neither trusted the other side to keep its word.

Fast forward to today and for many people visa-free travel to Europe is a delusion, or, if it happens, it will be a miracle come true. That’s because while they think nothing has been going on in Turkish-EU relations, a group of dedicated people keep working even at times when they become a laughing matter in the eyes of their colleagues who have no faith in the EU project.

The refugee deal might collapse and visa-free travel to Europe could be postponed to a distant future. It’s okay. Those people will continue to work to keep Turkey on the right track.