Germany and Turkey, after the recent summit held between their respective Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Berlin, are envisaging lifting the Schengen visa requirement for Turkish nationals. In normal times, such information would have had a deep effect among the Turkish public. This time, no real reaction came from the media or from civil society, simply because nobody believes in the positive steps that the EU can take.
As a matter of fact, the EU grants visa-free travel to all applicant country nationals having started accession negotiations. This is done as a goodwill gesture and as an additional motivation for those countries that will have to manage a difficult period of harmonization and negotiations.
This is of course valid for normal candidate countries, but it is obvious that Turkey does not fall into this category. Not only were Turkish nationals refused visa-free travel at the start of negotiations back in 2005, but Turkey has also been asked to fulfil a number of additional conditions in order just to contemplate the possibility of lifting visa requirements.
One of the conditions was for Turkey to accept an agreement by whose virtue European Union countries could send back illegal immigrants or refugees to the last country of departure - in most cases Turkey. Ankara accepted this conditionally but it took a number of years and a sea of equivocating on the part of the EU to start negotiations to lift visa requirements.
Alongside visa-free travel, Turkey was asked to revise and overhaul its border security. During the term of EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, Ankara announced that a special force of about 60,000 men would be established uniquely for the border protection.
When the war in Syria started, Turkey's longest land border became porous. This was done essentially to save the lives of millions of refugees. However, a 900-kilometer border can be guarded only if there are dependable regimes on both sides of it. This is obviously not the case with Syria, with an evaporating and terribly vindictive central regime losing its grip on the northern regions of the country. So Turkey's borders became less guarded than ever due to the war going on next door.
At this juncture, the EU was not at all ready to really put Turkey on the Schengen white list, despite numerous rulings by the European Court of Justice that found visa requirements illegal. That was a political stance largely supported by a huge number of EU member states and it would have taken Ankara at least five years of hard negotiations, probably with extra conditions appearing in between, before visas could be lifted.
All of a sudden, after the huge migratory movement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to EU countries started, Turkey was given the status of a very important partner. Everything was done to help Turkish authorities keep 2.5 million refugees within its borders. In between, the visa requirement was made part of the deal, probably on Turkish insistence, and Davutoğlu's recent visit to Berlin has most likely closed the deal.
Should this be condemned? What was the EU expected to do when it came to visa-free travel for Turkish nationals? As a matter of fact, what the EU, led by Germany, is trying to do is to implement a simple decision that should have been taken at least a decade ago. But EU officials have handled the situation totally wrong. They refused a simple advantage to be extended to Turkey when the latter was in its right, and now, at a time when all EU member states are talking about reinstating internal border controls, Turkish nationals will perhaps be given the opportunity for visa-free travel to the EU.
Yes, this is realpolitik, and this is only a small and insignificant example of what the EU is capable of when it comes to national interests. The EU is more and more tempted to act as a compilation of different nation-states instead of abiding by the principles of EU integration. The rather unimportant example is the visa-free travel to be granted to Turkey. Much more important examples are the situation of some member state, whose attitude, legal functioning and respect for EU decisions should have taken them out of the bloc long ago.
At a period of time we could qualify as an interregnum, which started with the end of the Cold War, the EU's guiding principles are unfortunately no match for the imperatives of short term policies. This does not bode well for anyone.