"We expect the EU to make the necessary decisions and take the necessary steps so that talks on visa liberalization can begin immediately," Davutoğlu told reporters on Friday, insisting that there is no obstacle left for these talks and warning that the issue of visa liberalization is linked with the readmission deal.
The EU announced on Thursday that negotiations with Turkey on an agreement for the readmission of irregular immigrants, something that has been seen as the biggest obstacle for a visa-free travel regime between Turkey and the 27-nation bloc, have been concluded.
"I am pleased to announce that following the meeting between the chief negotiators held on Jan. 14, 2011 in Ankara, the final adjustments to the draft EU Readmission Agreement with Turkey were agreed and the negotiation has now come to its end,” Cecilia Malmström, the EU commissioner for home affairs, said in a statement on Thursday.
EU interior ministers are expected to give their formal approval to the deal at their next regular meeting, scheduled for Feb. 24 in Brussels. Entry into force of the agreement is conditional on the European Parliament also giving its nod of approval.
Turkey, a candidate to join the EU, says its nationals must be able to travel to EU countries without first obtaining a visa. The EU has insisted on a series of preconditions, including Turkey’s introduction of biometric passports in line with EU standards and the signing of a readmission deal, taking into consideration that Turkey has become a major transit point for irregular immigrants from Asia and the Middle East trying to reach EU countries.
EU officials said the agreement would cover both Turkish nationals and third-country citizens that have entered the EU via Turkey with no permit to stay in an EU member state. Asylum-seekers and refugees are to be exempted in line with international agreements.
“The outcome of the negotiation is very balanced and will contribute greatly to the effective management of irregular migration in the region,” Malmström said of the deal, thanking the Turkish side “for its very constructive and pragmatic approach” during the talks. “This important development also opens up new perspectives to further foster our cooperation with Turkey in the area of visa policy and related areas, with a view to improving the mobility of our citizens,” Malmström said.
Readmission deal conditional on visa liberalization
Turkey now expects the member states to authorize the EU Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, to begin negotiations for visa liberalization. The position of countries that are skeptical about a visa-free regime with Turkey, such as Germany, France, the Netherlands and Austria, will be important in this process, according to Turkish sources. Ankara is unlikely to formally sign the readmission deal until member states give the commission the green light to at least begin negotiations for visa liberalization with Turkey.
On Friday Davutoğlu said cooperation with the EU on the readmission of irregular immigrants was conditional on the beginning of talks on a visa-free regime. “The readmission agreement is a process that can only work in parallel with this [visa talks] ,” Davutoğlu said.
“We’ll sign the readmission agreement without having free travel into the EU first, but the European Commission should at least be given a mandate to start visa-free regime talks with Turkey,” another senior Turkish official, Egemen Bağış, the chief negotiator for EU talks, has said.
Bağış, speaking at a gathering of EU officials and diplomats at the European Policy Center think tank in Brussels on Thursday morning, noted that the EU has lifted visa requirements for remote countries such as Paraguay and Uruguay and has begun talks on visa liberalization with Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. He then said it was time to do the same with Turkey.
“We’re willing to help the EU [cope with irregular immigration], but it’s also a matter of taxation,” he said, referring to Turkish tax revenue used to fund the anti-migrant operations. “When our citizens are insulted on a daily basis in the consulates of EU states [when they apply for visas], one may ask the question as to why we should help the EU with their problems when we are treated this way,” Bağış was quoted as saying by the EUobserver news portal.
Speaking during a meeting in Berlin, Zafer Çağlayan, the state minister in charge of foreign trade, also lashed out at the EU’s current visa requirement for Turkish nationals, saying it constitutes a “violation of human rights.” Çağlayan referred to a 1963 agreement Turkey signed with the EU, then the European Economic Community, which gives settlement and work permit rights to Turkish citizens who want to establish businesses or invest in EU member states.
“It is clearly stated that signatories of the said agreement cannot require a visa [from each other’s citizens]. We are inviting all parties to honor that agreement. In light of all this, we especially hope Germany will take the necessary steps in line with the agreement and the court rulings and establish the rule of law. I hope Germany will take the necessary steps as soon as possible and open the door for businessmen initially and then for the rest of the [Turkish] society,” Çağlayan said late on Thursday.
Many European countries, including Turkey-skeptics Germany and France, are concerned that a visa-free regime would pave the way for an influx of immigrants from Turkey, taking away jobs from native residents and worsening the continent’s economic plight. Turkey, on the other hand, says its economic dynamism and young population could only be helpful to Europe, which faces a financial crisis with an aging population.
Greece, the destination for tens of thousands of irregular immigrants each year, welcomed the conclusion of negotiations between the EU and Turkey on the readmission of irregular immigrants arriving in EU countries via Turkey, saying it hoped Turkey would follow through with its end of the agreement. “We hope this agreement will help put into effect potential measures to help stop illegal immigration,” said Greek Foreign Ministry spokesperson Grigoris Delaverkouras.