E.U. Aspirations Turkey’s Visa Demand Faces Obstacles

European Union leaders need Turkey’s help in the refugee crisis but its demand to bring forward visa-free travel won't be easy to accommodate. There are technical obstacles, and resistance is building in the European Parliament.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among the few European leaders smiling at Monday's E.U.-Turkey summit.

Visa-free travel for Turks in the European Union was one of the key demands made by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at Monday’s E.U. summit when he named his price for helping to solve the refugee crisis.

And the price is high, judging by his other demands that included accelerated accession talks with the European Union and an additional €3 billion, or $3.3 billion, on top of the €3 billion agreed so far to support Syrian refugees in Turkey.

A day later, German politicians immediately complained that Turkey was asking too much, and that it was far from ready to join the European Union given its human rights record. Some conservatives from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s camp went as far as describing Turkish accession as a red line they won’t cross.

Visa-free travel, too, seems unlikely to come as soon as Turkey would like. The country demanded in Brussels that the liberalization be brought forward from October to the end of June. But only 36 of the 72 requirements have been met. And resistance is growing in the European Parliament.

“We’re not going to approve that without the strictest scrutiny,” Markus Ferber, a member of the European Parliament for the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told Handelsblatt. Lifting restrictions was a legal process that couldn’t be circumvented for political purposes, he said.

Instead of sanctioning Turkey for its human rights infringements, the red carpet is being rolled out for it. Philippe Lamberts, Green Party lawmaker

Other parties also voiced criticism. “Instead of sanctioning Turkey for its human rights infringements, the red carpet is being rolled out for it,” said Philippe Lamberts, a lawmaker from the Greens party.

Turkey holds the key to solving the refugee crisis. At the summit, it proposed taking back all migrants who cross into Europe from its soil, and that for each refugee returned from Greece, the European Union should take in one Syrian refugee directly from Turkey — a move designed to stop the illegal, hazardous migration of refugees across the Aegean Sea.

Ms. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, pointed out that Turkey was the only accession candidate that didn’t have visa-free travel, but added the country would first have to meet all the requirements, and that the European Union was currently assessing the legal aspects of its demand.

Turkish business people keep complaining about the difficulties of obtaining visas for the European Union. Germany, in particular, is regarded as restrictive because of the wealth of information it demands from visa applicants.

E.U. Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos claims Turkey has only "partially met" the conditions required for visa-free travel within the European Union.


Even companies that invest in Germany sometimes run into considerable difficulties getting visas for their employees. In 2013, Turkey and the European Union agreed to a roadmap toward lifting the visa requirement, but the move is subject to the approval of the 28 member states and the European Parliament.

Passing legislation usually takes at least four months and the European Commission first has to establish that Turkey has met all the legal and technical requirements before it can submit a draft amendment of the travel rules.

In a report released a few days ago on Turkey’s progress, the commission gave a mixed assessment. Turkish authorities were showing “new determination and great commitment to a dialogue on visa liberalization,” E.U. Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said. But a large part of the conditions were only “partially met.”

The European Union has urged Turkey to improve cooperation with neighboring E.U. member states in police and justice affairs, to step up the fight against corruption and organized crime and to reduce its backlog of asylum applications. It wants data protection for individuals’ personal data to be raised to E.U. standards.

If the E.U. were to show itself as too flexible with the legal requirements, it will risk its credibility. Urs Pötzsch, Analyst at the Centre for European Policy

Also, Turkey has yet to reach cooperation agreements with Europe’s law enforcement and criminal justice authorities, Europol and Eurojust. The country has also yet to satisfy the E.U.’s demand that it enhance the social integration of Roma people who, European authorities argue, could make particular heavy use of visa-free travel into the bloc.

In addition, Turkey hasn’t met E.U. standards on combating terrorism and needs to increase the use of biometric passports containing fingerprints in line with the bloc's technical standards.

“It’s very ambitious to want to implement all that by the end of June,” said Urs Pötzsch, an analyst at the Centre for European Policy, a conservative think tank based in Freiburg. “If the E.U. were to show itself as too flexible with the legal requirements, it will risk its credibility,” he said.

Relaxing travel restrictions would allow Turkish citizens to enter the European Union without a visa for private or business purposes for a total of up to 90 days within a 180-day period.

According to commission figures, E.U. states in 2014 issued 770,000 temporary visas to Turkish citizens, 30,000 more than the year before. On average, 4.4 percent of applications were rejected.


Thomas Ludwig covers E.U. policy for Handelsblatt in Brussels. To contact the author: [email protected]