Turkey, EU close to inking readmission, visa deal

Turkey, EU close to inking readmission, visa deal

Turkey, EU close to inking readmission, visa deal

Commissioner Malmstroem will visit Ankara to sign a deal. AFP photo

The hint was given by Stefan Füle, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, through his Twitter account on July 9. While he was in Istanbul on his way to Tbilisi, he tweeted the following: “In Istanbul on my way to Georgia. Hope to be back here soon for launch of visa dialogue and sign of readmission agreement.”

Days before Füle’s statement, EU Minister Egemen Bağış also signaled that EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malström was expected to pay a visit to Turkey very soon to conclude nearly year-long talks that would begin a process for visa liberalization. In an interview aired on private broadcaster NTV July 6, he said: “Finalizing the visa dialogue is even more important than opening a negotiation chapter.”

If ongoing negotiations between the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the EU Commission can be concluded, Malström will come to Turkey to sign the Readmission Agreement and in return will launch visa dialogue with Turkey. “Malström will only come to sign the agreement,” European diplomats told the Hürriyet Daily News, underlining that the parties were close to finalizing talks.

However, arriving at this point took more than two years and tough negotiations between Ankara and Brussels – who in fact had agreed on the terms of the Readmission Agreement in early 2011. Turkey remained hesitant to sign the agreement, which would put an additional burden on its shoulders as it will have to accept repatriation of the thousands of people who illegally migrated into European countries crossing through Turkish territories. In the face of this complexity, Turkey insisted on a parallel process that would officially kick off visa exemption talks with a clear mandate.

Following months of negotiation, the parties came close to finding a formula to satisfy both parties’ needs. As Turkey will sign the agreement, visa dialogue will be launched but assurances will also be provided to the Turkish government that the process will result in gradually eliminating the visa requirement for citizens of Turkey.

For Turkish officials, visa liberalization talks will not be that complicated for Turkey as it long sought to improve its conditions in this direction, but they shied away from giving an exact date on when Turks would start to enjoy visa-free travel to the Schengen zone. The EU commission introduced a roadmap for a visa-free regime in November last year, outlining specific areas where the government should implement reforms, laws and directives.

Given the recent crisis between the two over the opening of the chapter on regional policies due to Germany’s opposition over Ankara’s undemocratic attitude toward the Gezi Park demonstrators, both Turkish and European officials admit that signing the agreement and launching visa dialogue would have a positive effect on relations.

But before its political consequences, if concluded and implemented, the visa exemption would save millions of Turkish citizens from suffering though visa procedures, which in fact have turned into humiliation. The EU should be fair and sincere in visa talks with Turkey in an understanding that free travel is not a value Europeans are granting but a fundamental human right.