19 January 2010
The European Union lifted the visa requirements for Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia on December 19, 2009. At this point, it would be appropriate to first take into consideration how the visa requirements for these countries began, and then the process of lifting the requirements should be discussed.
The EU approved the list of third countries that would be subject to visa requirements with regulatory statute number 2317/95, dated September 25, 1995. Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Montenegro were not on the list in the annex of the regulatory statute. After the Amsterdam Treaty came into effect, this regulation was replaced by regulation number 539/2001 (ATRG, L 81, 21.3.2001); therefore, with the exception of Croatia, all the Western Balkan countries were included in the negative list (liste negative) of countries which would be subject to visa requirements.
While the issue is regulated by the aforementioned legal arrangements, the Salonika Strategy or Salonika Agenda, which was adopted June 21, 2003 in order to make the Western Balkan countries closer to the EU, put a new face on things.
Thus, even though this decision concerning the countries listed above seems brand new, it is possible to lean the beginning of this on the Salonika Agenda of 2003. Within the context of the application of the agenda, the EU first made agreements with these countries on simplifying the visa requirements and readmission in 2007. After these agreements, with the November 6, 2007 declaration (see also COM (2007) 663) concerning the enlargement strategy, the Commission announced that they intended to take concrete measures for the simplification of the visa requirements towards these countries and that a new dialogue process would be started with each of these countries and new road maps would be presented. This offer of the Commission was positively received by the Council of Ministers on January 28, 2008, and henceforth another declaration related to the topic was established on March 5, 2008 (see also, COM (2008) 127). Furthermore, the visa agreements made came into effect on January 1, 2008.
Then, in the same year, the Commission initiated a dialogue and prepared road maps for each country. There are four points emphasized in the road maps: 1- Reliability of the documents, 2- Prevention of illegal migration, 3- Public order and security, 4- Foreign Affairs. It should be stated that the last part is taken into consideration in terms of free movement of persons. Yet, if a more general evaluation is made, it can be said that the road maps contain a better established asylum system, strict protection of minorities, increased cross border cooperation, approval of more effective legislation considering the struggle against organized crime and corruption.
The first evaluation made by the Commission considering whether the countries applied these points in the road maps was presented to the Council of Ministers in November 2008. The second evaluation was made on June 12, 2009. After that, the Study Group under the Council of Ministers made a positive evaluation. The Council, in its first evaluation, determined that Macedonia fulfilled all the criteria. In the next level, it stated that the other two countries also satisfied the criteria.
In this issue, following the countries’ fulfillment of the criteria, the EU Commission offered to lift the visa requirements towards these three countries on July 15, 2009 (Commission document number 2009/0104 CNS). Jurally, this procedure towards these countries becomes concrete with the change in the regulation number 539/2001 mentioned above. To clarify, these countries were removed from the negative list (list-I) annexed to the regulation. But, this removal necessitated a change in the regulation. This offer of the Commission was first conveyed to the European Parliament for consultation. The Parliament approved its decision on the offer with 550 yes, 51 no and 37 abstention votes in November. However, in its decision the Parliament generally implied that in case Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina fulfill the criteria stated by the Commission in the road map, it would be appropriate to lift the visa requirements towards these countries as well.
Hence, the Parliament roughly offered three changes concerning the Commission’s offer: The first is the shifting of Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina from annex I of the regulation number 539/2001 (annexe-I) to annex II (annexe-II) like the other three countries. The Parliament especially emphasizes the necessity of not discriminating against these countries. The second change is that if the criteria are not satisfied (that is, when there are setbacks), there will be a suspension of the visa exemption. According to this, the Commission should determine reference criteria and also determine whether they have been applied by each country. Then, the evaluation of the Commission should also be approved by the Council of Ministers. The Commission evaluation considering Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina should be made at the beginning of 2010. Finally, the last change offer is related to Kosovo. The Parliament, at this point, offers the Commission to start dialogue with this country within its limits of authority concerning the prevention of a discrimination against the citizens of the country within the framework of the application of the Salonika Agenda of 2003, and it also offers the representation of a road map as was done with the five countries.
As it was stated above in detail, the visa exemption decision towards these countries was approved by the Council of Ministers (with the offer of the Netherlands) in a decision taken in the meeting of Ministers of Justice and Internal Affairs on November 30, 2009 after consulting the Parliament. Therefore, the visa requirement for these three countries was lifted on December 19, 2009. Yet, it does not mean that the citizens of these three countries can reside within the EU. It only includes the right to reside for a maximum of 90 days within a six-month period in countries that are part of the Schengen System (including Norway, Sweden and Iceland, but not including the U.K. and Ireland). Of course, it also requires having a biometric passport.
Regarding Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s criticism considering the issue, if we consider the issue in terms of EU-Turkey partnership law, indeed it is possible to see that the member states started the visa requirements following the Additional Protocol. And it is already registered by the Court of Justice and became inoperative because of the Standstill rule. However, as it is a judicial process, there is a case by case condition. That is to say, it is not systematic and general; it is necessary to file a suit and then to win it, etc. If it is ever not exactly the same situation, there is not the right of quotation of the case either. Similarly, the same awkward situation continues within the framework of the Customs Union as well. The goods have the mobility without visa requirements, but the lorry driver who will carry the goods has to obtain a visa, the boss who produces it also needs to get a visa, etc., etc.
At this point, the situation can be seen as slightly improved since the Mehmet Soysal decision of the Court of Justice in 2009. That is, there can be exemption from visa requirements in terms of the production of services. Yet, is not it weird that none of the member states have turned a hair after the decision? The countries like Germany, which seemingly took a step, did not do anything more than make things difficult. That is, things are more difficult now. When the documents necessary for visa exemptions are seen then it will be clearly seen that the things are deteriorating.
Actually, Davutoglu touched on a raw nerve. It is certain that there is a double standard here. That is to say, while permanent derogations for the free movement of persons for Turkey is placed on the agenda, on the other hand, the visa requirements are being lifted for other countries, some of which are not even candidates. And heaven knows why the leaning on the Salonika Agenda started recently. More interesting for us is that the process progresses at a dizzying speed.
What is more, within the same context, the condition of Bosnia Herzegovina and Albania, which are not supplied with the same opportunity, also supports it. That is, I wonder if these countries are kept out of this application just because they are Muslim. But, the declaration of the EU Commission states that these countries have not fulfilled the requirements above, and if they fulfill them, the same decision can be made for these countries in 2010 as well. At the meeting in which the environment article was opened, Mr. Rehn in his reply to Mr. Davutoglu said similar things about it.
But, in our opinion, the main thing that scares the EU is the possibility of a huge wave of asylum-seekers coming from Turkey. Actually, most of the European authorities seriously think that this is possible. If we take a look at the countries for which the visa requirement has been lifted, we will see that this possibility is quite low. Besides, what Rehn wants to say in a way is exactly this: we can think of removing the visa requirements if Turkey becomes safe in terms of asylum, migration, struggle against illegal migration, etc. Yet, heaven knows why the Commission is still thinking and has not yet taken action. It acts according to the situation. Moreover, we think that Turkey having lifted visa requirements with countries towards which the EU is skeptical, such as Syria and Libya, may establish another problem also. When we look at the issue from this point of view, it is possible to say that Turkey’s stance is different from that of the EU as it happens in many issues like this.