Top EU official acknowledges mistakes made during visa liberalization process

YUNUS PAKSOY @yunuspaksoy
ISTANBUL
Published
An accord between Brussels and Ankara in March 2016 envisaged visa-free travel into the Schengen zone for Turkish citizens, however, the bloc has failed to keep its promise.
An accord between Brussels and Ankara in March 2016 envisaged visa-free travel into the Schengen zone for Turkish citizens, however, the bloc has failed to keep its promise.

An official of the EU told Daily Sabah that mistakes were made in the visa liberalization process for Turkish citizens, which was promised as a part of a migrant deal, while several high-level diplomats expressed that they are expecting a gesture from Ankara to normalize relations

A top EU official admitted to Daily Sabah that the European Union has made several mistakes since last year during Turkey's visa liberalization process.

An accord between Brussels and Ankara in March 2016 envisaged visa-free travel into the Schengen zone for Turkish citizens as well as other incentives in favor of migrants in the country, but the visa liberalization process has been dead in the water as of October 2017 amid unprecedentedly sour Turkish-EU relations.

The high-level EU official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that some mistakes were made by the 28-nation bloc itself over the course of the process.

In May 2016, Ankara came on the verge of completing the visa liberalization process when the EU suggested that Turkish counterterrorism laws must be revised. Waging an all-around war at the time against the PKK and Daesh, Ankara vehemently contested the idea.

"We will go our way, you go yours," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in response to Brussels, adding: "The EU is telling us to change our laws on combating terrorism. They are allowing terrorists to raise tents and then come with such requirements."

The journey that began around 18 months ago with the historic migrant deal comes down to seven outstanding criteria. The European Commission demands that Ankara fulfill seven remaining criteria from a total of 72, including "revising legislation and practices on terrorism in line with European standards."

As the possibility of Ankara revising its anti-terrorism laws is next to zero, and the EU, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Germany, bashes the Turkish government for alleged human rights violations and arbitrary judicial processes, visa-free travel has not appeared on the horizon for a long time.

Recalling Brusselss' arguments at the time, including the renewed conflict between the Turkish military and the PKK and Kurds fleeing the region, possibly to Europe, the top EU official said the double standards were applied to Turkey. Ukraine, which has been experiencing a war within its borders for more than three years, was granted visa-free travel some five months ago.

Even though the visa-free travel process seems to have been forgotten in Ankara amid an overwhelming sequence of regional crises, Erdoğan remembers.

"[The EU] did not keep their promises on the visa issue. Latin American countries, which are no way related [to Europe], were included into the Schengen zone while Turkey has not been," he said last month.

BRUSSELS EXPECTS GESTURES FROM ANKARA FOR NORMALIZATION

Apart from the figuratively dead visa liberalization process between Ankara and Brussels, Turkey's full membership bid has also been nowhere near completion. Ankara's recent exchange of stern ultimatums and harsh words with Berlin brought relations to a halt.

The senior EU official and several high-level diplomats from EU member states in Ankara told Daily Sabah that the European Union expects gestures from Turkey. Drawing attention to EU citizens jailed awaiting trial in Turkey, the EU official and the diplomats, who also wanted to remain anonymous, said that Ankara needs to make a move toward normalizing ties.

As a glimmer of hope seems to have appeared in the wake of the EU's message to Turkey, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who delivered a speech in European Parliament in mid-September, believes "Turkey has been taking giant strides away from the European Union for some time." He called on Ankara to "let our journalists go."

The general mood in Ankara has recently been that the relationship with the 28-nation bloc could be normalized after the German elections on Sept. 25. That being said, presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said in an article in Daily Sabah that it may not be as easy as it seems.

"We are not prepared to accept double standards, threats and outright hostility," Kalın said.

While the EU seeks gestures and concrete steps from Ankara for the ties to be reconciled, the Turkish government has other demands. Underscoring the EU's double standards, Kalın stressed that Brussels "must engage Turkey as an equal partner." The presidential spokesman also said that Schengen visa liberalization "should have been granted to Turkish citizens many years ago."

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