Turkish citizens will be able to travel to European countries without visas in three years’ time.
Turkey and the EU reached an agreement to start a “visa liberation dialogue” in Ankara this month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced on Wednesday.
“We are here today to announce a historic moment in Turkey’s integration into the EU,” Davutoğlu said when announcing the start of the visa liberation dialogue. Speaking at a joint press briefing in Brussels together with Cecilia Malmström, member of the European Commission in charge of home affairs, and Stefan Füle, the EU commissioner for enlargement, Davutoğlu said the visa liberation dialogue between Turkey and EU will formally begin in Ankara on Dec. 16. Davutoğlu is in
Brussels to attend a NATO foreign ministers meeting. “This has been an objective for Turkey for many years now. We have been working on this for almost three years now. I hope we will have visa liberation in three years’ time at the most,” Davutoğlu said, commending Malmström and Füle’s cooperation during the process.
“I hope we will reach a result on the visa liberation dialogue as soon as possible. Turkey is part of Europe. This is a historic reality,” Davutoğlu said. He added that a readmission agreement with the EU would be signed parallel to the visa liberation dialogue in Ankara this month.
There were reports that Turkey and the EU were moving significantly closer to signing a readmission agreement, which would require the repatriation of third-country nationals illegally migrating to Europe via Turkey back to Turkey.
Turkish and EU officials reached a deal on the terms of the readmission agreement and will sign the agreement this month to end a several-year saga which has been blocking the abolition of visa requirements for Turkish citizens seeking to travel to Europe. Turkey initialed the readmission agreement in 2011 but asked the EU to pave the way for visa exemption for Turks travelling to EU countries as a precondition to sign and ratify the readmission agreement. The readmission agreement needs to be ratified in the Turkish Parliament.
When asked about a timeframe for Turks traveling to Europe without visas, Malmström said: “It is too early to set a date for free travel. But I do not expect delays.”
“For the first time, we are not saying ‘İnşallah,’ we are saying ‘at last’,” said Füle at the joint press conference. He added that everyone involved in the readmission agreement and the visa liberation dialogue has worked hard and he hopes this announcement will have a positive impact on putting Turkey’s accession negotiations back on track.
Earlier on Wednesday, Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, after attending American-based data storage and information security company EMC’s 2013 forum, answered journalists’ questions about visa exemption to Turkey for EU countries. “We [Turkey and the EU] have come to a mutual understanding,” Bağış said. He added that EU officials will soon visit Turkey and the agreement which will enable Turkish citizens to travel to the EU without visas will be signed simultaneously with the readmission agreement with the EU.
“Turkish citizens will be able to travel to the Schengen zone with only their passports, without the need for a visa,” said Bağış. Responding to a question asking why Turkey did not want a visa facilitating agreement with the EU, similar to Azerbaijan, Bağış said Turkey refused a visa facilitation agreement four years ago and now it is about to start visa exemption negotiations.
The readmission agreement needs to be ratified in the Turkish Parliament. After the ratification of the readmission agreement, the EU will determine if Turkey is doing what is necessary in terms of EU obligations regarding the agreement. If the EU does not grant visa exemption right to Turks in a reasonable amount of time, Turkey may suspend the readmission agreement unilaterally. If the agreements are signed and the process starts, Turkish citizens will be able to travel to Europe without a visa in three years’ time.
Bağış said EU embassies and consulates currently facilitate visa applications for Turkish artists and businessmen but Turkey wants all of its citizens to enjoy the same privileges and be able to travel to the EU easily.
Turkey’s full membership negotiations with the EU started in 2005 after it was accepted as a candidate country in 1999. Turkish citizens have to apply for a Schengen visa to visit EU countries or a British visa to go to the United Kingdom.