The member states of the Council of Europe, including Türkiye, signed an agreement in 1957 granting citizens of member states the right to freedom of movement. With this agreement, the vast majority of the countries of the Council of Europe mutually ended mandatory visa applications. Turkish citizens were also able to travel around Europe without a visa until 1980.
After the coup of Sept. 12, 1980, several European countries started requiring visas for Turkish citizens, claiming some had fled to Europe.
Since then, the antidemocratic practices of the Sept. 12 coup have ended, and Türkiye's application to become a member state was accepted in 1999.
In 2002, when the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to office, the steps taken for democratization, economic development, social and political reforms have brought Türkiye closer to Western principles. The government, once thought to have anti-Western discourses, took important steps toward becoming a member state of the European Union. At the Brussels summit on Dec. 12, 2004, it was decided to start Türkiye's membership negotiations since it had adequately met the political criteria.
Later, a common system was established to match Türkiye's legislation with the EU. Joint efforts have been initiated for Türkiye's legislation to be compatible with the bloc. With the March 18, 2016 agreement, a 72-item course of action was determined. Recording that Türkiye has fully fulfilled 65 of the 72 courses of action criteria on May 4, the report made a legislative proposal to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union to initiate visa liberalization for Turkish citizens. Turkish citizens were expected to have the right to travel visa-free to EU countries by the beginning of 2017.
However, the problem of refugees fleeing after the Syrian civil war erupted became a disputed issue, and Turkish citizens' right to visa-free travel was once again suspended. Then the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, was suppressed. The soldiers affiliated with Fetullah Gülen, the founder of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the perpetrator of the failed July 15 coup attempt, failed to abolish democracy, yet EU countries have welcomed those who participated in the failed coup attempt and managed to flee the country.
The hostile attitudes of the EU countries that do not mesh with European law or the NATO alliance have strained relations. It was unacceptable for the EU, which asked Türkiye to soften its anti-terrorist laws, to welcome and defend the coup terrorists who were proven in the courts to have killed 252 people.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made the following statement at that time:
"We are currently hosting 3 million refugees. However, the EU's only concern is that they will reach its territory. They offered us the re-admission of the refugees in exchange for visas for Turkish citizens. The re-admission and visa exemption were supposed to take effect as of June 1. It is August now but there is still no visa exemption. If our demands are not met, re-admissions will not be possible."
Yes, the issue of visa-free travel is still a topic of discussion.
Countries such as France and Germany are turning down well-known people, businesspeople who have gone to Europe hundreds of times, even journalists' applications.
Schengen countries continue to aggravate the conditions for issuing visas. Now, the rejection of visa applications has become a human rights issue. It is really incomprehensible that Turkish citizens are humiliated in this process to such an extent. Many documents are required to prove that they will return to Türkiye, even for short-term visas, and heavy fees are charged for visas.
And I am not even talking about the right to seek asylum, live or work. Acceptions are easily given to members of the PKK terrorist group and other illegal structures listed as terror organizations by the EU. The citizens of the 26 member countries of the Schengen area, in which Türkiye has been trying hard to become a member but to no avail, can enter Türkiye without a visa, and some can enter even without a passport. In stark contrast, Turks have to jump through diplomatic hoops and are more often than not still turned away.
I wonder if the reason for this lawlessness is the upcoming elections in Türkiye, because there is no other diplomatic, logical explanation for this situation. Is the EU sending a message to Turkish voters that they cannot go to Europe before Erdoğan leaves office?
It can be clearly said that the EU's visa threat will only work in Erdoğan's favor because Turks do not appreciate blackmail.