Where talks on visa-free travel in the EU have come to a deadlock

Published 01.06.2016 02:28

The EU's excuse for not giving Turkish nationals visa-free travel in the Schengen zone is quite absurd, as it requires Turkey to redefine its designation of terrorism while the EU itself is unable to solve the terrorism problem within its borders and is providing clear support to terrorist groups such as the PKK

Turkey's interest in the EU has been revived since it was announced that the Schengen visa requirement for Turkish nationals would be removed at the end of June. Although we know that negotiations over visa-free travel in the Schengen zone were initiated to resolve the refugee crisis, which stems from Syrian migration to Europe, we were still excited by the idea that we would not face bureaucratic obstacles to enter Europe. We have, however, been let down by a statement from Brussels. It seems the EU has adopted a Fabian policy on Turkey once again. What happened and how have things come to this point?

The Readmission Agreement, which Turkey and the EU signed on Dec. 16, 2013, partially came into force on Jan. 1, 2014. When the refugee crisis broke out in 2015, the agreement became vitally important for the EU and it asked Ankara to completely put the agreement into force. As a result of negotiations, the Joint Action Plan was accepted on Nov. 29, 2015, and it was decided that the Readmission Agreement would completely take effect on June 1, 2016.

Parallel with this process, negotiations on visa free travel also gained speed. We all followed the European Commission's advisory report on May 4. As its name implies, this report needs to receive approval from the European Parliament (EP) and Council of Europe to take effect. Things have come to a stalemate at the EP.

As the Schengen zone increasingly expanded and its borders started moving east, the EU provided technical support to neighboring countries in order to keep migration movements away as much as possible. As such, readmission agreements have become one of the strategies to fight irregular migration. Let us note that Turkey is not alone, as the EU has signed bilateral readmission agreements with 17 countries since the early 2000s and is still holding relevant talks with Morocco, China, Algeria, Belarus and Tunisia. Readmission agreements lay more burdens on the other party than the EU. Therefore, the union offers some opportunities, with visa exemptions taking the lead, to other parties to make them accept such agreements. Sometimes it reduces procedures required to obtain visas and sometimes it reduces visa fees and offers multi-entry visas. It has this kind of agreement with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia. Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Moldova obtained visa-free travel in return for readmission agreements with the EU. Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo faced an advisory decree from the EP like Turkey and are waiting for the EP and Council of Europe to vote.

The EU sets the road maps to be pursued by countries that request visa-free travel in this process. If the European Council is satisfied with the implementation of this road map, it proposes the EP and Council of Europe abolish visa requirements. The European Council's advisory report indicates that Turkey must have done its share until now. The process, however, has frozen at this stage, as the EU wants Turkey to make some amendments to its definition of terrorism so that it can fulfill all the stipulated criteria. However, Ankara refuses to change its approach to terrorism at the current time. Turkey is right in this attitude, as the EU's definition of terrorism is not incompatible with Turkey's existing definition. This is a question of atmosphere. All specialists I interviewed suggest the EU would not demand any formal changes to Turkey's definition of terrorism if negotiations had reached this point while the reconciliation process was ongoing.

The EU wants Turkey to observe "fundamental human rights in organized crimes and counter-terrorism" and redefine terrorism accordingly. Within this principle, the EU has asked Turkey to change curfews and policies that are implemented in the southeast as part of the fight against the PKK. It seems the EU does not look in the mirror. I went to both Brussels and Strasbourg after DAESH attacks and saw armed soldiers deployed in the streets giving no respite to people, reminiscent of an atmosphere of martial law. Can Turkey stand by with folded arms while it faces a terrorist organization that wages an insurgency in a part of the country? Indeed, no state can do this.

Why the EU criticizes Turkey's definition of terrorism is a mystery given that the PKK is certainly a terrorist organization in accordance with the framework that the EU set in 2002. The EU condemns Turkey's security forces' struggle against the PKK and want them put on trial. It calls on Turkey to implement an urgent truce and restart negotiations. In short, what the EU wants is for Turkey to not fight terrorism, in a sense. Unless the EU changes this attitude, the visa exemption process will remain suspended. It is also hardly fair to expect Turkey to put the Readmission Agreement in force in this context.

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