25 April 2012
The EU approved a framework for visa facilitation ahead of the April 26th Internal Affairs Council meeting, when that body is set to make decisions on visa procedures for Turkish citizens, but Turkish officials say they expect an EU visa-free regime soon as a trust-building mechanism to jump-start Turkey's EU accession process.
According to the EU framework, which will be implemented by July this year, the process to obtain a visa will be shortened to two weeks, while visa fees will be reduced from 60 euros to 35 euros.
Pensioners, NGO directors, journalists and children younger than 12 will not pay visa fees anymore, while certain trades -- artists, businesspeople, athletes and journalists -- will be able to obtain visas for terms ranging between two and five years.
But easing the visa application conditions is a temporary step, not an objective itself, says Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis.
"What Turkey asks from the EU is that the European Commission starts a visa liberalisation dialogue with Turkey [without delay] to ensure visa-free travel for Turkish citizens," Bagis told SES Türkiye.
He explained that EU countries, facing severe economic crisis, have the most to gain from increased opportunities following Turkish citizens' visits.
Easier travel to the EU continues to have great symbolic significance for Turkey. It is the only country to hold EU membership talks without the benefit of the Schengen visa liberalisation, which the EU granted to the Western Balkan countries in 2009 and 2010.
The visa dialogue will not alone put EU-Turkey relations back on track, and other stumbling blocks in the accession process will disappear, according to Nathalie Tocci, deputy director of the Rome-based Istituto Affari Internazionali.
"But it can restore trust in the relationship, a necessary precondition for new positive momentum in EU-Turkey ties," Tocci told SES Türkiye.
The EU initiated visa facilitation because it is worried about the porousness of the Turkey-EU border, and is united about establishing new mechanisms to send back illegal migrants, implying a need to efficiently implement the EU-Turkey Re-admission Agreement, according to Emiliano Alessandri, a German Marshall Fund fellow.
Until recently, the signing of the readmission agreement was considered a major obstacle for visa facilitation. The text of the agreement was finally approved last February after long negotiations, and it only vaguely mentioned "visa dialogue and mobility for Turkish citizens."
However, Turkey has rejected signing the agreement until the EU explicitly commits itself to visa liberalisation.
The latest EU move "sells" the re-admission agreement to Turkey by offering a set of well-defined rules leading to visa liberalisation, according to Zeynep Ozler, senior researcher from the Economic Development Foundation.
"An obscure mention of a visa dialogue is not a sufficiently high incentive to prompt Turkish politicians and officials to carry out costly reforms," Ozler told SES Türkiye.
Ozler explained mere gestures or rhetoric pointing to the dim light at the end of the tunnel will not suffice anymore, and the time has come for the EU to act.
"It is not only indispensable to bring Turkey closer to the EU, but also it is the only plausible way to ensure Turkey's vital co-operation in migration and asylum management, as the EU strives to achieve today," Ozler concluded.