Why are Turks paying the budget deficit of EU countries?
As a diplomatic reporter working in Ankara and knowing diplomats, I had not endured visa torture until I moved to Istanbul. The first time I had to renew my Schengen, I was heading to Spain for a holiday; but since I had several old Schengens in my passport, it appeared easier to go to the Dutch consulate; I happened to apply there. In fact one of the friends with whom I was going to Spain with was a Turk working in the Dutch Embassy in Ankara while the other one a Dutch diplomat who, at that time, was working in the Dutch Foreign Ministry’s consular section.
My request for a visa was turned down, saying I should go apply to the Spaniards. It was not so much the decision but the way I was treated that made me furious. My flight was on a Saturday. I had applied a week prior. I was informed of the decision on Thursday afternoon, at 4.55 pm. The sadist who had unfortunately deprived himself of İstanbul’s positive energy made me wait three hours on that day and told me his verdict after everybody else had left; leaving me only Friday to make a last effort.
The other day I had discovered with great astonishment from an academic friend of mine, who would like to go to London for an academic conference, the visa fees for the UK: $500 for two years, $800 for five and $1200 for ten years. “I guess we are there to close the budget deficit of the British,” she told me. “There was a big royal wedding and now we have the royal baby; all these are costly endeavors,” said another friend.
If you think getting a Schengen is a mere 60 euros, you are mistaken; for one needs to make several additional spending, like paying the intermediary organization that handles the documents, the insurance, etc, etc. Those who would argue that Turkey asks for the same fees: back off! It’s all about reciprocity and on top of it, the visa procedures for Turkey (like the e-visa) is much easier than the EU ones.
And actually it is also all the paper work that is driving people crazy. And you know who are getting tremendously disgusted and outraged about all this: the ones who have no intention to stay and live in Europe but who believe in European ideals and who believe Turkey should remain anchored to the EU. Their freedom of movement, which is a core EU principle, is restricted by the EU itself, leaving them extremely frustrated by the EU as well.
Unlike in the past when visas were largely aimed at the illegal immigration of Turks to Europe, today the current visa policy is aimed at putting pressure on Turkey so that it stops illegal immigrants from third countries to use Turkish territories to go to Europe. EU wants Turkey to sign the readmission agreement in order to (only) start talking about visa-free travel. The Turkish government hesitates to sign the agreement as past experience has shown that the EU never keeps its promises.
The recent decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECOJ), which closed the door to visa-free travel in member countries, did not come as a good news. Unfortunately, the decision has far more consequences than simply being a visa ruling.
For Turkey, the association agreement – otherwise called the Ankara agreement – is the main political document that anchors Turkey to the EU. The Ankara agreement, however, is just a mere economic document according to the ruling of the court. It could be perceived as if the court was saying that the 50-year relationship with the EU is nothing but a customs union. And in fact, the decision came at the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Ankara treaty.
Those familiar with Turkish-EU relations are also familiar with all these ups and downs. Against all odds, there will fortunately always be small but visionary people on both sides who are dedicated to Turkey’s European vision. In that context, let me award the Oscar of visas to the Italians and Greeks, who are doing their best to accommodate the Turks.