‘EU visa policy on Turkey is illegal,’ German-based advocacy group says

‘EU visa policy on Turkey is illegal,’ German-based advocacy group says

(Photo: AP)

March 15, 2012, Thursday/ 16:08:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

The Germany-based, non-profit research and policy institute European Stability Initiative (ESI) has said the European Union's current visa policy regarding Turkey is illegal and in violation of its own legal obligations, not to mention unsustainable.

In a newsletter the ESI posted on its website titled “The time is now: Changing EU visa policy on Turkey,” it says Turkey is the only EU candidate country without a visa-free travel agreement with the EU. Moldova and Ukraine, which have yet to receive any promise of membership, are participating in an EU visa liberalization process. There are even discussions about visa-free travel for Russians, the institute says.

Mexicans, Brazilians, Guatemalans, Israelis and Malaysians can all travel to the EU without a visa, while citizens of Turkey -- which applied for EU membership in 1959 and has been negotiating with the bloc since 2005 -- still cannot travel to EU member states without a visa.

According to the ESI, there are three major problems with the EU's current policy. First, it violates the EU's own legal commitments. Second, it undermines the bloc's vital security interests. Finally, it is based on mistaken assumptions.

In 1963, Turkey signed an Association Agreement with the EU. A protocol to this agreement states that both sides "shall refrain from introducing between themselves any new restrictions on the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services." The ESI points out a court decision in the case of a Turkish national arrested by the German federal police at the country's border with the Czech Republic in August 2009. Even though the man had entered Germany without a visa in order to buy a car, a local court in the city of Cham ordered his immediate release, noting that as a Turkish national he could "rely on visa-free travel according to the so-called standstill clause,” which refers to the aforementioned protocol.

The ESI cites in the newsletter a stream of European court rulings which have confirmed Turks' right to travel to a number of EU member states in the past few years. In February 2009, the European Court of Justice ruled that Turkish truck drivers Mehmet Soysal and İbrahim Şavatlı, as service providers, did not need a visa to enter Germany. In November 2010, a Turkish tourist entering Germany from Poland without a visa was arrested for irregular immigration and sent to prison. A court in Hannover ruled in January 2011 that the man had to be set free, as he had not broken any laws. In February 2011 a pregnant Turkish woman was arrested in Bad Reichenhall after entering Germany from Austria. The regional court in Traunstein ordered the police to release her and to allow her to stay in Germany as a tourist for up to three months.

Based on these rulings, the institute has come up with the conclusion that the current Schengen visa requirement, and the EU regulations on which it is based, are illegal and that EU working groups often ignore that when it comes to the visa issue Turkish citizens already have legal rights inside the EU.

Approximately 625,000 Turks applied for a visa to travel to the EU in 2010. They often receive a single-entry visa, valid for only a few days. Sometimes they are denied entry outright. The newsletter says the EU launched a visa liberalization process in 2008 for five Western Balkans states and each received a visa roadmap which listed close to 50 specific and demanding conditions. The EU closely monitored progress at every step. When they fulfilled the EU's conditions in 2009 and 2010, the visa requirement was lifted.

While Turks see Serbs, Albanians and Bosnians travelling to the EU without a visa, the EU has refused to offer them even the prospect of a visa liberalization process, the ESI says.

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