Turkey should not rush for visa-free travel

Turkey should not rush for visa-free travel

In 2009, 484,209 Turkish citizens applied for a simple Schengen visa and paid a total of 29 million euros. In 2015, 900,789 Turks applied for Schengen visas and paid 54 million euros.

In seven years, the total amount paid by Turks for the simple Schengen visa amounted to 289.6 million euros.

Actually, the amount paid by Turkish citizens to travel to Europe goes much beyond the said numbers, since they also pay for the services of the intermediary companies to make their applications.

But the financial dimension is actually the least significant part of the difficulties Turks suffer through when it comes to getting a visa.

The paperwork, the documents required to be presented, and the amount of time spent on queues (which is no longer the case, fortunately) leaves a bitter taste for Turks. Fortunately, the rate of refusal is quiet low, although I’m sure there are many cases where applications were rejected that did not deserve to be denied.

A European citizen may simply say, “If Turks complain so much, then they should not come.” That is a reflection of an ethnocentric, introverted mindset. And it is not the mindset that can enable the old continent to successfully tackle the challenges of the new century, especially facing serious competition from new power centers.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a slogan it sometimes uses: “It was a dream, now it is reality.”

One can say confidently that visa-free travel is a dream come true for millions of Turks, not just the nearly one million Turks who travel to Europe each year (which is actually low for a country whose population approaches 80 million).

Even if millions have no intention of traveling to Europe any time soon, the possibility of visa-free travel will be tremendously welcome due to the psychological dimension of the issue. Visa-free travel will lessen the sense for Turks that they are not wanted by Europe. Despite the fact that both Turkey and Russia are two European powers, the old continent considers them as the two “Others.” That became particularly apparent after the end of the Cold War, despite the fact that Turkey had sided with NATO while some of the EU’s newer members had been behind the Iron Curtain.

So visa-free travel will dissipate Turkey’s sense of being excluded, to a certain degree.

Visa-free travel will ultimately become possible thanks to a pragmatic change in the outlook of Germany, which is pulling the strings in Europe.

Just like Greek leader Yorgo Papandreu realized in 1999, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has realized that engaging Turkey rather than alienating it will help solve the refugee crisis that has started to threaten her political career. She took a risk and struck a deal with Turkey. According to the deal, Ankara will be provided with financial assistance, the possibility of visa-free travel and a revival of the accession process in exchange for stopping illegal crossings of the migrants.

So far Turkey seems to have fulfilled its part of the obligations, since the number of illegal crossings has seriously decreased. The government claims that more than half of the 72 criteria have been fulfilled and the rest will be fulfilled by June, when the EU has promised to lift visa requirements, provided its satisfaction about the criteria met.

Many feel this is mission impossible. Not necessarily. It is not uncommon for the EU to turn a blind eye to shortcomings. Look at the case of the Eastern and Central European countries. None were ready for membership but due to the political will that existed at the time they were rushed in as members.

Europe cannot afford another uncontrolled flow of refugees, so it will have to deliver. It could therefore decide the criteria are met by Turkey even if they are not met 100 percent.

Yet both sides should be extremely careful to see that all criteria pertaining to security are met 100 percent.

Just imagine the public reaction if Turkish citizens who are members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were to stage attacks in Europe after visa requirements are lifted. In order to minimize such a possibility, both sides need to make sure that all necessary measures are taken.

Both Europe and Turkey have a mixed record on cooperating against terrorism. It has been revealed that for every major terror attack staged by Islamic radicals, Turkish security members had warned their European counterparts about the perpetrators in advance. We have seen many cases of negligence on the part of European security institutions. Similarly, several terror attacks and the investigations later on also attest to the security deficit in Turkey.

There is no reason to rush for visa-free travel. Turks can wait an additional two or three months - or however long it takes - to make sure that both sides have taken measures to minimize unwanted incidents.