Will Turkey have visa-free travel rights?

Published 26.04.2016 01:29

The European Union and Turkey have had a very long and arduous history of signed agreements and words given but never honored. Since the very beginning, this relationship has been impregnated with double talk. Back in 1963, when both Turkey and Greece had the first association agreements, the idea was to establish an association that would ultimately end up in full-fledged membership. This has not been the case for Turkey, which has been hanging about in the anteroom of the EU since 1964. This has not been the case for Greece either, because its membership in the EU was carried out through the relevant articles of the Treaty of Rome, and not at all through the road map foreseen in its association agreement.

The whole story of Turkish-EU relations includes accords that have been signed and agreements that have been reached but very seldom respected. I do not want to go into prehistoric details, but even a very simple perusal of the development of accession negotiations show the existing deep mistrust among the parties. All the advantages to be granted to Turkish Cyprus evaporated right after Greek Cyprus joined the EU, and starting from 2006 onward, basically only Turkish steps to normalize relations with Greek Cyprus have been brought to the agenda. This has totally stalled the accession dynamics and nothing has revitalized them since, despite some hesitant initiatives from both sides.

Visa-free travel is in fact a very simple step between the EU and third-party countries. If a country is deemed able to sit at an accession negotiations table, its citizens are almost automatically given the right to be on the Schengen whitelist, which means the allows spending a maximum three-month tourist stay in the Schengen area with a valid travel document. This is all it is, not a residence permit, not a work permit, not a right to get any paid job in the EU, not even the possibility to enter into the EU without any control or obstacle. EU customs officials are perfectly entitled not to let any individual in they do not want in their own territory, even if they have a valid travel document.

Now the very fashionable argument is to pinpoint that there are a variety of conditions to fulfill, 72 to be exact, nobody knows what they are, but the number has been repeated so many times that everyone in Turkey is familiar with it. Turkey has now mostly met these conditions, but for other candidate countries, visa-free travel has been granted without making too much of a fuss about it as a welcoming gift. When it comes to Turkey, even a simple formality becomes a huge obstacle full of unseen complications. I do not remember how many rulings from the European Court of Justice have stipulated that imposing a visa procedure on Turkish nationals were against our association agreement. None of these rulings have been put into action because the problem is not legal, but purely political.

There are less than 1.5 million active passport holders in Turkey who could travel to EU countries. Goods circulate freely between Turkey and the EU, but people cannot, even for very menial issues. Philippe Gelie wrote an article in Le Figaro on April, 22, depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel's last working visit to Turkey as "kissing the Turkish slippers." Why such overt and low bigoted and fascist rhetoric worth of Marine Le Pen or Philippe de Villiers? It is because depicting the visa-free travel as a gift to be given to Turkey has been used as an argument so many times that some Europeans have started to believe it really is.

Seen from a similar viewpoint, refusing Turkish nationals visa-free travel can be described as parking them in Bantustan, as second-zone citizens in a huge single market. This kind of fascist rhetoric is gaining ground very rapidly. It is essential and imperative to bring the visa-free travel issue to its real dimensions, that it is a very simple step that should have been granted to Turkey long ago.

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