Experts: Probability of visa-free regime between EU and Turkey approaches zero

February 26, 2016 3:00 pm

The European Union is ready to offer Turkey an accelerated path to giving its citizens visa-free travel in return for Turkish help with the migration crisis, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, stated after the EU Summit in Brussels, Belgium, on October 15, 2015.

“We have agreed with our Turkish partners that the visa liberalization process will be accelerated. This does not mean that we would step away from the basic criteria, which are the rules in that domain. There will be no other criteria for Turkey and we will assess progress in spring 2016,” he said in a conversation with journalists.

In turn, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the EU intends to allocate about 3 billion euros to help Turkey in curbing the flow of Syrian refugees in Europe.

“Turkey has assumed great responsibility for the reception of refugees. We know that Turkey has not received sufficient financial support from the EU. We are ready to share the burden with Turkey,” the German politician said.

Meanwhile, according to the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Ankara wants fresh cash in a sum to be reviewed each year.

“We’re talking about a 3 billion euro amount in the first stage. But we don’t want to fixate on this because the requirements may go up, and the assessment for this would need to be done annually,” he stated.

However, Ankara hopes that Turkish citizens will be able to visit the EU countries without visas as soon as next summer.

“We hope that both Schengen and readmission agreements will go into effect in July 2016,” said Ahmet Davutoglu, expressing hopes that Turkey will soon proudly hold a place in the EU family photo.

Commenting on the situation, Josef Janning, Head of Berlin office and Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that the chances of the abolition of the visa regime between the two sides are pretty dim.

“Turkey would need to deliver strongly on the control of refugee flows and be seen as sticking to that policy to see a visa-free regime. Also, inflow from other countries needs to come under control. The role of Turkey would be different if refugees from Syria now in Lebanon or Jordan would take different routes to come to Europe, thus neutralizing some of the effect of a changing Turkish policy. Likely, an easing of the visa requirements for a range of professions can be achieved [in 2016],” he said in an interview with “PenzaNews” agency.

Meanwhile, according to him, the EU countries have signaled that they would give consideration to a comprehensive package of measures in return for a better control of migration flows at the Turkish borders.

“Part of that is financial aid to Turkey in dealing with the refugee burden. EU countries would like Turkey to open its labor market to refugees and to also think about the possibility of naturalizing refugees to become regular citizens of Turkey. Both issues are not popular in Turkey. Recognition of its status and financial assistance is popular and the Turkish government is likely to move in that direction,” the expert explained.

He added that the visa issue is going to take much longer.

“Since it affects the Schengen area, a change in the visa regime needs to be approved by all Schengen-countries. So far, the EU has signaled readiness to move on the issue but within the margins of its current visa policies,” Josef Janning said.

In his opinion, the situation is complicated by the fact that Turkey will expect more from Europe than just a quid pro quo on refugees.

“Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to secure that Turkey will play a significant role in any considerations and negotiations about the war in Syria. Also, Turkey seeks from Europe recognition and support as a regional power in the emerging power struggle with Iran and Saudi Arabia over order in the Middle East,” the expert noted.

In turn, Yevgeny Satanovsky, political scientist, orientalist scholar, economist, President of the Middle East Institute, suggested that the main objective of the Turkish government is not the opening of borders but getting the financial aid.

“It’s not about the abolition of visas, which is highly unlikely given the current situation in the Middle East. Ankara needs to knock out the money for refugees from Europe by blackmailing the EU with migrants: the flow of migrants through Greece is organized by Turkey,” the analyst said.

However, according to him, in practice this will lead nowhere.

“Turkey will not achieve acceleration of the abolition of visas with the EU. They may want whatever they like but the probability is approaching zero,” the analyst stressed.

Moreover, in his opinion, the prospects for Ankara’s bid to join the European Union are also low.

“After the recent visit of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels, Angela Merkel once again said that she does not see Turkey a member of the EU. The issue was de facto taken off the table for a long time, if not forever,” Yevgeny Satanovsky said.

According to Sharbatullo Sodikov, researcher at the Analytical Center of MGIMO, expert of the Russian Council on International Affairs, joining the EU for Turkey is not a long-term strategy or a diplomatic game, but an anti-Russian political attack.

“Aggressive fight against terrorism in the Middle East made the president of Turkey breathe new life into double standards in the country and made him want to get concessions from the EU. Thus, as if in exchange for the construction of camps for the refugees from the territories occupied by the Islamic State (IS), he is ready to get visa-free regime with the EU countries. This modern Turkish policy is likely rooted in the interests of the bloated Turkish bureaucracy. The uncanny outstretching of the pyramid of power – along with the loss of the Russian market for the EU countries – gives birth to new political and diplomatic contacts between Turkey and the European Union related to the issue of EU membership,” Sharbatullo Sodikov said.

He also added that close economic relations between Turkey and Russia, against which Ankara took a stand after the beginning of surgical air strikes targeting the IS military sites, will be inexcusable for the EU.

However, commenting on the statement of the Turkish Prime Minister about possible abolition of visas in 2016, the expert stressed that it would be very unlikely.

“The negotiations continue but I am convinced there will be no shift to a visa-free regime with the European Union in the next five years. Ahmet Davutoglu’s words look like unrealistic promises before the election that resemble the tales of Scheherazade,” Sharbatullo Sodikov said.

Meanwhile, Vitaly Tretyakov, journalist, political analyst, Dean of the High School of Television at the M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, suggested that Turkey would not be ready to increase the number of camps for refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

“I do not believe that Turkey will be ready to host all or most of those who are trying to flee to the EU. And even if that happens, then at any time people from these camps may be let out in the direction of Europe itself. Thus, Ankara will get a great lever of pressure against Brussels,” he explained.

In his opinion, the probability of canceling the visa regime between Turkey and the European Union in the foreseeable future is almost zero.

“There are already many Turks in Europe. I think that the majority of Germans will not appreciate Angela Merkel for it,” the expert said.

In addition, from his point of view, the situation will depend on what kind of government in 2016 will stand at the head of Turkey and on how things will go for the current German Chancellor.

“The chances of Turkey’s accession to the EU are minimal. Firstly, this solution is sure to be blocked by several countries. Secondly, the EU already cannot digest everyone it has absorbed. Thirdly, in the coming years it will start falling apart: some countries will be leaving the union. And then, enlargement will no longer be on the agenda; especially such a problematic enlargement as in case with Turkey,” Vitaly Tretyakov noted.

In turn, Fatma Yılmaz-Elmas, researcher at USAK Center for European Studies, reminded that the EU and Turkey have already agreed on a Joint Action Plan in order to strengthen cooperation on migration management between two parties.

“The Plan builds on the visa liberation dialogue and includes EU commitments for further funding Turkey’s efforts. In essence, this seems to be in exchange for Turkey’s commitments to prevent refugees arriving the European borders. So, the EU leaders are very much interested in the proposal mainly because it is both politically and economically cheaper than taking responsibility at home. Angela Merkel had to leave her somehow ‘welcome policy’ for refugees after she had to face harsh critics and expectation of high number of refugees by the end of 2015,” the analyst said.

However, from her point of view, the EU’s control-centered migration and refugee policies will harm the norms and values on which the EU has been established since its foundation.

“Only a positive projection of European values and ideals in managing migration can also help EU’s global role positively. Solidifying perceptions of ‘fortress Europe’ can do nothing for its effectiveness as a foreign policy actor,” the expert stressed.

Fatma Yılmaz-Elmas also added that a visa-free regime is not a realistic expectation in short term.

“Neither recent Joint Action Plan nor Angela Merkel’s own words give a clear message on an exact date for visa-free travel. They have just mentioned the acceleration of the process but also issues to be overcome. More importantly, it is not easy to convince European public on such promise. There will probably be harsh discussions on opening borders to Turks as Turkey hosts nearly 2.5 million Syrians under temporary protection. Also, Greek Cyprus has already sent a signal that it will block such a move,” the expert explained.

According to her, Turkey’s EU membership process reached an impasse but it is not just Turkey’s responsibility.

“Due to its fuzzy political and economic atmosphere for so long, the EU could not send right signals to Turkey for a positive move. Recent deal on cooperation in refugee crisis can be seen a positive sign to reveal the relations, but also it includes a tricky perspective that the ground for Turkey-EU relations could slowly shift from candidate prospect to a third-country as a buffer state,” Fatma Yılmaz-Elmas concluded.

The Association Agreement between the EU and Turkey was signed in 1963. Ankara made an application for full EU membership in 1987. Accession negotiations started in 2005.

Since then, the parties agreed on 14 out of 35 technical points, which Turkey must fulfill in order to achieve the required standards for the EU membership. Seventeen points remain blocked; negotiations are underway on four points.

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