Is Turkey’s Merkel deal still valid as the EU questions Schengen?
Right before Paris was put on alert over yet another incident on the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo assault by al-Qaeda on Jan. 7, former French President Nicholas Sarkozy claimed that the Schengen visa agreement “was dead.” The agreement has brought visa-free travel to a number of European Union and non-EU European countries since the mid-1990s.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said only three days before on Jan. 4 that the Schengen system was in danger, after Sweden started to impose border checks at the Danish border and Denmark imposed border checks at the German border in the wake of the Syrian refugee influx to the EU. France (and Belgium) had already put restrictions on Schengen visas following the bomb attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, which killed 130 people. Such terrorist attacks are obviously forcing EU governments to put national security priorities before EU principles, as their voters demand.
The photo of the body of little Alan Kurdi, who was swept onto Turkey’s Aegean coast on Sept. 2, 2015, was actually the key development in putting western Europe on alert over the Syrian refugee influx. The EU saw the main source of the influx as Turkey, which hosts some 2 million refugees as a result of the Syrian civil war since 2011 and which has a 910 kilometer-long border with Syria.
Following a series of diplomatic contacts with Turkey, Merkel arrived in Istanbul to talk to President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to propose a plan to stop the refugees in Turkey by not letting them pile up on the EU’s borders, in return for sharing the financial burden. Turkey had its demands too. During the Merkel-Davutoğlu joint press conference, a four-point deal was revealed:
3 bilion euros of assistance from Brussels to Turkey to help burden-sharing, reactivating EU membership negotiations with Turkey by opening up six chapters as soon as possible, inviting Turkey to future EU summits, and granting visa-free travel for Turkish citizens within Schengen countries as soon as Ankara fulfils the necessary technical requirements.
Both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu announced the good news that the EU would soon lift visas for Turkish citizens during campaigning for the Nov. 1, 2015 election, which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) won.
The current situation for Turkish citizens traveling to Europe is actually worse than before, as many can only get one-time visas for the Schengen country to which they want to travel; they are not valid in other ones.
This might have been considered a temporary security measure until promises were delivered and Turkish citizens could have started traveling to all Schengen states without visas, if not for the recent remarks.
Those remarks were not only said by Sarkozy and Merkel. Yesterday, on Jan. 7, EU Vice President Frans Timmermans said Brussels was not satisfied with Turkish measures to stop the migration flow, and hours later Turkish EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkır urged the EU to “keep its promises to Turkey.” If the Schengen deal really is dying, then it would be too optimistic for the EU to expect Turkey to fulfill the Merkel deal and Turkish citizens to expect visa-free travel in Europe.