Prospects for a Visa-Free Turkey for EU Citizens
Prospects for a Visa-Free Turkey for EU Citizens
The visa issue remains an important obstacle in the path towards full accession to the EU for Turkey. With the adoption of the Readmission Agreement in December 2013 and the subsequent start to the negotiations on the Visa Liberalisation Dialogue, this subject has gained much interest among the Turkish public and those that follow closely Turkish affairs in the EU. The visa liberalisation roadmap lays out a total of 72 criteria to be fulfilled by Turkey in order for the process to be completed. One of those criteria includes the lifting of all visa restrictions towards EU citizens. This also implies the recognition by Turkey of all Member States and thus concerns directly the resolution of the Cyprus issue. A visa is still one of the most powerful obstacles to people-to-people contacts and is sometimes used by countries of the North to drastically restrict immigration from poorer Southern countries. Whereas Turkey has been a candidate state of the EU since 2005 and is strongly anchored among key Western and Euro-Atlantic organisations such as NATO, the Council of Europe and the OSCE, it expects also to deepen its relationship with the EU, albeit it remains in troubled waters at the moment. The swift completion of the visa process could give critical impetus to the revival of Turkey-EU relations and a regeneration of the negotiations process.
Lately, the visa policy of EU Member States towards Turkish citizens has been a major issue of discussion point of Turkey-EU relations. In that respect, Turkey has submitted Brussels and EU Member States to heavy criticism and there have been numerous complaints in important legal arenas such as the European Court of Justice (i.e. Soysal Case). In contrast, Turkey’s visa policy towards EU Member States citizens can be described as being much more liberal in comparison to the Schengen visa regime and has thus not been submitted to the same level of criticism as the latter. In that respect, the following question ought to be asked: Is the Turkish visa regime imposed upon certain citizens of Member States showing an integrated picture? There is only one simple and fast response that one may give to this question and it is “no”.
First, we will try to explain the current structure of Turkey’s visa regime towards EU citizens. Secondly, we will try to assess the political and economic reasons behind such a policy and lastly we will try to share some thoughts why lifting visa requirements for all EU citizens would be to the benefit of Turkish and European citizens alike.
Turkey’s Visa Regime towards EU Citizens
The visa liberalisation dialogue started following the signature of the Readmission Agreement between Turkey and the EU. In that context, Turkey is required to take back illegal immigrants who entered into EU territory via Turkey. Since the beginning of the visa liberalisation dialogue between Turkey and the EU in December 2013, both parties have been pursuing intensive negotiations with the objective of lifting visas for all citizens. In that respect, within the framework of the visa liberalisation roadmap, the European Commission requests Turkey to lift its visa regime to all EU citizens (with no discrimination) as stipulated in Block 2 of the roadmap. In its first evaluation report of the roadmap published in October 2014, the Commission noted that citizens of only 19 Member States could enter Turkey visa-free and that thus, Turkey has “not fulfilled” this benchmark. The visa liberalisation roadmap explicitly requires Turkey to lift such requirements within Block 2 of the roadmap. Furthermore, the Commission noted that there was remaining concerns vis-à-vis the on-going de facto discrimination regarding applicants of the Republic of Cyprus, which as of yet, has not been granted an official recognition by the government of Turkey and continues to be referred to as the “Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus” (GCASC).
Table 1: Turkey’s Visa Regime for EU citizens
Currently, Turkey grants visa-free access to citizens of only 19 Member States. In contrast, whilst it requires a visa from 9 Member States’ citizens holding a regular passport, the process is smooth thanks to modern customs facilities where they may apply for visa for a total duration of 90 days with multiple entries (except Greek Cypriot citizens). Furthermore, with the launch of the e-visa website in April 2013, they may proceed to get their visa online just in a few simple steps.
Table 2: EU Citizens that are required a visa for Turkey
An Evolving Visa Regime
When one analyses thoroughly Turkey’s current visa regime towards EU Members, it is possible to find political reasons. Indeed, following the coup d’état in Turkey on the 12 September 1980, various EEC countries imposed unilaterally a visa upon Turkish citizens. In retaliation, Turkey also imposed a visa upon citizens of certain countries. Furthermore, it is of utmost importance to recollect that in the past Turkey has signed bilateral agreements with some Member States in that respect. Moreover when one further keeps in mind the ongoing Cyprus issue and political discussions vis-a-vis Turkey’s membership process, the current situation is even more complicated. In addition, since the 1980s, within the framework of the principle of reciprocity, it should be underlined that the visa obligation that Turkish citizens are required while entering EU countries can be compared to the visa requirement imposed upon citizens of some Member States whilst the latter are entering Turkey. By 2009, Turkey systematically removed visa requirements with countries on the black list of the Schengen regime. Turkey agreed to lift visa requirements with Syria, Libya, Jordan and Albania as well. It continued in 2010 with Russia, Lebanon and Serbia and in 2011 with Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Malaysia. In a declaration in May 2011, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu revealed that in the last years, Turkey had reached visa-free agreements with no less than 50 countries. This also had an impact with some EU countries whereas Turkey lifted visa on Polish citizens in December 2014.
As regards the economic perspective, it is further possible to add that the hypothetical lifting by Turkey of visa obligation to all Member States nationals will not lead to a significant economic loss. Indeed, according to TÜRSAB statistics, in 2013, out of the 17 million EU citizens that have entered Turkey, 5 million have obtained a visa while entering Turkey and the remaining 12 million entered Turkey visa-free.
Table 3: EU Citizens visiting Turkey in 2013
What Turkey has to Gain from a Visa-free Policy for all EU Citizens?
Hypothetically speaking, a scenario envisaging that Turkey would have imposed visa obligation upon all citizens of Member States, and when one further acknowledges that the latter are required a €15 visa fee upon entry, it is possible to say that Turkey would have been granted an additional €82 million from such a policy in 2013 (although one may further remember that holders of official passports of the 9 Member States upon which there is a visa requirement are exempt from such a requirement). In contrast, as Turkey is not imposing a visa requirement upon the citizens of the remaining 19 Member States, it has not been granted a total income of approximately €180 million. In other words, as Turkey is providing visa-free access to the citizens of 19 Member States, it is losing twice the income that it is actually gaining from its visa regime. Therefore, the economic effect of Turkey’s visa regime to some nationals of EU Member States is of a limited scope.
Apart from the political and economic dimensions, what benefits Turkey would actually gain from granting visa-free access to all EU citizens? Here are a few answers that may be given to this question:
- Turkey would thus abide by all the visa liberalisation roadmap criteria;
- Turkey’s image as a hospitable country would be strengthened and a positive signal would be sent to the EU public, thus increasing Turkey’s leverage in the negotiations of the visa liberalisation dialogue;
- A uniform policy of Turkey for all EU citizens would provide a comprehensive example regarding Turkey’s visa regime vis-a-vis third country nationals;
- Turkey’s determination in the visa issue would have a positive impact in the visa liberalisation dialogue negotiati
Turkey’s current visa regime is governed by Article 14 of the Association Agreement and the First Paragraph of Article 41 of the Additional Protocol. Moreover, it is in conformity with the principle of reciprocity. According to Article 14 of the Association Agreement, “the contracting parties agree to be guided by Articles 55, 56 and 58 to 65 of the Treaty Establishing the Community for the purpose of abolishing restrictions on freedom to provide services between them”. Moreover, according to the First Paragraph of Article 41 of the Additional Protocol, “the contracting parties shall refrain from introducing between themselves any new restrictions on the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services”. Therefore, both Turkey and the EU are engaged not to hinder or bring new restrictions upon the free circulation of services between the parties (standstill clause). Therefore, Turkey’s current visa regime vis-à-vis EU nationals could not be deemed as being in conformity with the provisions of the Association Agreement and the Additional Protocol. One may further point out that, as Turkey continues to impose a visa obligation upon some EU nationals, it is also rendered partly responsible for the unfairness it has relentless pointed out regarding the visa regime imposed upon Turkish nationals entering the EU.
With the beginning of the visa liberalisation dialogue between both parties, the prospect of a visa-free access for all EU nationals entering Turkey has gained significant momentum. Indeed, as Turkish authorities continue to abide by the criteria included in the visa liberalisation roadmap, it will have to, at a certain point, provide visa-free access for all EU nationals, which would undoubtedly have a positive impact upon Turkey’s own perspective of seeing its nationals enter the EU exempt of visa. Furthermore, one may say that if Turkey amends its legislation in that respect, it would further strengthen its own hand vis-à-vis membership negotiations. Therefore, one may say that the perspective of a visa-free Turkey for all EU citizens would constitute a win-win situation for Turks and Europeans alike. In a world that is increasingly interconnected, the lifting of visa would send a positive signal to those that wish Turkey to be integrated into the EU and strive for a pluralistic and open continent. Moreover, as Turkish foreign policy is more and more intertwined with EU policy, it is inevitable also that its visa policy would be aligned with that of the EU.
Deniz Servantie, Junior Researcher, Economic Development Foundation (IKV)
Please cite this publication as follows:
Servantie, D. (August, 2015), “Prospects for a Visa-Free Turkey for EU Citizens”, Vol. IV, Issue 8, pp.14-21, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=9578)
 ECJ, C-228/06 Soysal and Savatli v. Germany, Judgment of 19 February 2009, 19 February 2009, [Accessed 18 June 2015] Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/legal_service/arrets/06c228_en.pdf
 European Commission, Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on progress by Turkey in fulfilling the requirements of its visa liberalisation roadmap, COM (2014) 646 final, Brussels, 20 October 2009, [Accessed 18 June 2015] Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/e-library/documents/policies/international- affairs/general/docs/turkey_first_progress_report_en.pdf
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, Visa Information For Foreigners, 2011, [Accessed 18 June 2015] Available at: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/visa-information-for-foreigners.en.mfa
 “Visas to be lifted between Turkey and Poland”, Milliyet, 8 December 2014 [Accessed 18 June 2015], Available at: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/turkiye-ile-polonya-arasinda-gundem-1981343/
 Official Journal of the European Communities, Agreement establishing an Association between the European Economic Community and Turkey (signed at Ankara, 12 September 1963), 24 December 1973, [Accessed 18 June 2015] Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/turkey/association_agreement_1964_en.pdf
 Official Journal of the European Communities, Additional Protocol (signed at Brussels, 23 November 1970), 24 December 1973, [Accessed 18 June 2015] Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/turkey/association_agreement_1964_en.pdf