Prospects for a visa-free Turkey for EU citizens

Prospects for a visa-free Turkey for EU citizens

Deniz Servantie*
The visa policy of EU member states towards Turkish citizens has been a major issue in the context of Turkey-EU relations. In that respect, Turkey has subjected Brussels and the member states to heavy criticism and there have been numerous complaints in important legal arenas such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In contrast, Turkey’s visa policy towards EU member state citizens can be described as much more liberal in comparison to the Schengen visa requirements and has thus not been subjected to the same level of criticism as the latter.  In that respect, the following question ought to be asked: Is the Turkish visa requirement imposed upon citizens of certain member states showing an integrated picture? There is only one simple response and it is no.

Since the beginning of the visa liberalization dialogue between Turkey and the EU in December, 2013, both parties have been pursuing intensive negotiations with the objective of lifting visas for all citizens. Within the framework of the visa liberalization roadmap, the European Commission requests Turkey to lift its visa requirements for all EU citizens (with no discrimination) as stipulated in the roadmap. In its first evaluation report of the roadmap published in October, 2014, the Commission noted that citizens of only 19 member states could enter Turkey visa-free and that Turkey  has  “not  fulfilled”  this  benchmark.  The Commission also noted that concerns remained vis-à-vis the ongoing de facto discrimination regarding applicants from Greek Cyprus.

Therefore, Turkey grants visa-free access only to citizens of 19 member states. However, while it requires a visa from citizens of nine member states who hold a regular passport, the process is smooth thanks to modern customs facilities where they (except Greek Cypriot citizens may apply for a 90-day visa with multiple entries). Furthermore, with the launch of the e-visa website in April 2013, they may get their visa online in just a few simple steps.

As regards to the  economic  perspective,  it  is  further  possible  to  add  that  Turkey hypothetically lifting the visa obligation of all EU member states will not lead to a significant economic loss. According to Turkish Association of Travel Agents (TÜRSAB) statistics, in 2013, out of the 17 million EU citizens that entered Turkey, 5 million have obtained a visa while entering Turkey and the remaining 12 million entered Turkey visa-free.

One should recollect that, in the past, Turkey has signed bilateral agreements with some member states. Moreover, keeping in mind the ongoing Cyprus issue and political discussions vis-a-vis Turkey’s membership process, the current situation is even more complicated. In addition, since the 1980s, within the framework of the principle of reciprocity, it should be underlined that the visa requirement of Turkish citizens entering EU member states can  be  compared  to  the  visa  requirement  imposed  upon citizens  of  some member states.

With the beginning of the visa liberalization dialogue, the prospect of a visa-free access for all EU nationals entering Turkey has gained significant momentum. Indeed, as Turkish authorities continue to abide by the criteria included in the visa liberalization roadmap, it will have to, at a certain point, provide visa-free access for all EU nationals, which would undoubtedly have a positive impact upon Turkey’s goal of seeing its nationals enter the EU exempt of visas. Furthermore, one may say that if Turkey amends its legislation in this respect, it would further strengthen its own hand vis-a-vis membership negotiations. Therefore, one may say that the idea of a visa-free Turkey for all EU citizens would constitute a win-win situation for Turks and Europeans alike.

*Deniz Servantie is junior researcher at the Economic Development Foundation (İKV).