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Free Movement for Turkish Citizens in Europe: A Dream come True?

Free Movement for Turkish Citizens in Europe: A Dream come True?

24.04.2016. Turkey-European Union.

Turkey would rescind its commitments if the EU does not abide by the terms of the agreement concluded in March over the migration crisis, tells Ankara.  Yet one of the chapters of this agreement deals with the possibility, by June, for Turkish citizens, to be free of any visa requirements to travel to the European Union. Now, that is an issue.

 Ask any Turkish citizen what drives his or her interest for the European Union and what he/she will mention is first and foremost “free movement”. In other words, for the vast majority of Turkish people, being a European means to have the right to free movement in Europe. What’s more, thanks to the EU agreement on refugees, they might be able to fulfil their dream within the coming weeks, unlike the Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Africans and many other migrant nationals who will have to flow back to Turkey.

For Turkish people, this dream has been colliding for decades against the reality of long waiting queues in front of the gates of European consulates in the hope of obtaining some uncertain visa. But there was always something missing from the applicant’s file: some reference, some photograph, some document… Feeling exasperated, renown professors, artists and Turkish people gave up travelling to Europe – where roughly 4 million fellow citizens were already living by the end of 2010 – rather than being humiliated into bending over backwards at consular offices.

One has to admit that cheaters could display undeniable talents: a European consul once showed me a fake reference written on a piece of paper bearing the letterhead of…. the Commander in Chief of the Army.

But thanks to the agreement on refugees that was signed on 18th March between the EU and Turkey, and which started being implemented on 4th April, travelling to Europe without having to apply for a visa could become a reality within the coming weeks. This is because free movement for Turkish people is one out of several “prices to be paid” that Turkey demanded from the EU.

Third out of several “prices to be paid”

Two of the “invoice lines” accepted by Brussels are well known: €6 billion by 2018 for the accommodation and upkeep of the refugees on Turkish soil, and the resumption of accession negotiations (though the latter is less likely by the day given the present balance of power within the European Union and its 28 members, something that everybody knows but that nobody wishes to say).

Far less is said about the third “price to be paid”: the withdrawal of the visa requirements imposed on Turkish citizens wishing to travel in the European Union. If the Turkish negotiators manage to secure the implementation of this measure in June, as planned, then any Turkish citizen holding a biometric passport will be free to travel to Europe for up to 3 months. This will give a huge popular approval to the Turkish government and President Erdogan, well beyond the only Islamic-conservative side.

In fact, there is nothing new about this. Already, back in December 2013, that possibility was envisaged, as an aside to the readmission agreement concluded between the EU and Turkey. A roadmap was put forth to the Turkish authorities, with no less than 72 criteria to be fulfilled so as to withdraw the visa requirement by… 2017.

The EU subcontracted the refugee human tragedy to Turkey. Pretending that the state of law is not crumbling away in Turkey amounts to losing face a second time over.  

A guaranteed headache awaits anyone reading the convoluted list of requirements dealing with the following topics: documents security, public order and security, re-entry of migrants who entered on EU territory illegally from Turkey. But there are more sensitive categories too, such as: migration management (border control and Turkey’s granting international protection), as well as, most importantly, the respect of fundamental rights (freedom of expression, respect of minorities, etc.)

“State of Law” seal

 On 4th March 2016, the European Commission underlined that this final list of terms were far from being met. But there was a U-turn two weeks later when Brussels said it nevertheless does not exclude that the visa liberalisation agreement might be implemented “by the end of June 2016 at the latest

Therefore, the dilemma, for Europeans, is the following:

  • First option: Brussels yet again turns a blind eye on Ankara’s authoritarian abuses, and withdraws the visa requirements for Turkish citizens wishing to travel to Europe. The Turkish government and President Erdogan will then be able to boast of having received a “State of Law Seal” to the greatest dismay of the opposition which has more than enough reasons to challenge such statement.
  • Second option: Brussels faces up to the truth and, given that fundamental rights are violated in Turkey, refuses to grant free movement to Turkish citizens in the European Union. But then, the main victim will be the Turkish population, most specifically the opposition to President Erdogan, which expects a lot from the EU. What’s more, that might be enough to trigger Ankara’s wrath, which, as a retaliation, might decide to sabotage the agreement on refugees.

The European Union subcontracted the refugee human tragedy to Turkey with utmost contempt for all its commitments in terms of international conventions, and with no guarantee as to the feasibility of the whole agreement. To now pretend that the state of law is not crumbling away in Turkey amounts to losing face a second time over. Yet, according to a source who is familiar with Brussels’ workings of power: “The European Commission will do nothing (Editor’s note: for example, veto the clause on free movement included in this deal) before having taken in the results of the Brexit referendum”.

Undoubtedly, if our European politicians were to give the green light to this deal on the withdrawal of visa requirements for Turkish citizens, they would also, at the same time, give a fatal blow to Turkey’s accession process to the EU: the reason for this is that, for the present Islamic-conservative government, whatever free movement it may wrench from the EU would become of far greater importance than the adherence to European values – or whatever is left of them.

Ariane Bonzon

Translation: Laurence Mazure

Photo:  Turkish PM Davutoglu, UE Council Pdt Tusk and EU Commission européenne Pdt  Juncker – Bruxelles 18.03.2016

French original version (dates back to 4.04.2016) : Le deal caché de l’accord entre l’UE et la Turquie sur les réfugiés





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