EU embarks on long-haul effort to lift visa for Turks

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Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström signed today (16 December) in Ankara a landmark agreement opening the way for lifting visa requirements within three years for Turks travelling to the EU.

Malmström also signed a EU-Turkey readmission agreement with the Turkish interior minister, Muammer Güler.

The agreement obliges Ankara to take back any irregular migrants from third countries that reached EU territory having transited from Turkish territory. For many years Turkey has resisted concluding a readmission agreement with the EU.

According to a Commission press release, the two events took place in a ceremony, with the participation of the prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, the Turkish Minister for European Affairs, Egemen Ba?iš and the Ambassadors of all the EU member states represented in Turkey.

Malmström called the event 'historic'

“We have started two initiatives in parallel which will boost the relations between Turkey and the European Union and bring benefits for their citizens. I hope that the readmission agreement will now be ratified by the two sides without delay, and that the visa liberalisation dialogue will soon allow to register substantial progress", Malmström said.

The agreement will now be sent to the Council of the European Union, to the European Parliament, and to the Turkish Grand National Assembly for ratification.

But it should not be expected that the lifting of visa requirement for Turkish nationals would be lifted soon. Firstly, the readmission agreement should be fully implemented, showing that Turkey can manage its borders and the visa policy in such a manner as to effectively prevent irregular migration.

The country should also have secure travel documents and bring its migration and asylum systems in line with international standards.

Turkey is also required to have functioning structures for combating organised crime, especially when it comes to migrant smuggling or human trafficking, and put in place and implement adequate forms of police and judicial cooperation with EU member states and the international community.

Also, Turkey will be required to respect the fundamental rights of the citizens and foreigners, with specific attention being given to persons belonging to minorities and vulnerable categories.

The aim of the EU-Turkey visa liberalisation dialogue is to make progress towards the elimination of the visa obligation currently imposed on Turkish citizens travelling to the Schengen area for a short term visit.

Turkey is an EU candidate but its nationals are subject must fulfill visa requirements if they are to visit the EU’s borderless Schengen space (see background).

Many illegal immigrants have crossed the Greece-Turkey border in recent years, and since the Syrian crisis, many Syrian refugees have passed the Turkish border into Bulgaria.

Turkey has claimed for many years that its citizens should be able to visit the EU without visas, but it did not make its case any easier, as in 2010 it established a visa-free regime with Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, with which the EU maintains strict visa requirements.

In the 1960s, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France asked Turkey to provide workers for their booming markets. Hundreds of thousands of Turkish 'guest workers' followed.

Following the economic stagnation of 1967, Western countries stopped issuing work permits. After the 1973 oil crisis, the countries declared that they had abolished immigration for employment purposes.

In 1980, Germany introduced a visa obligation for Turkish citizens, followed by the Benelux countries and France.

Since 1995, the Schengen countries have common 'positive' and 'negative' visa lists. Turkey is on the 'negative' visa list and its citizens require a visa to visit EU countries.

Unlike the Western Balkan countries, Turkey has not benefited from a 'visa facilitation' mechanism, leading to the elimination of the visa barrier.

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