A senior government official has signaled a change in Turkey's long-standing visa policy that envisages the removal of visas with as many countries as possible in a bid to align with the EU's policy, as part of ongoing talks over visa liberalization for Turkish citizens starting from late 2016.
The signal was given by Turkish EU Minister Volkan Bozkır in a meeting with a group of reporters in Brussels on Dec. 3, when he was asked whether Turkey would have to impose visas to countries whose citizens need to get visas for their travel to EU's Schengen countries.
“These issues will be sorted out. We had mutual visa exemption with both Romania and Croatia. These countries notified us by a diplomatic note [that they would impose visas for Turkish citizens] when they joined the EU. We received this with understanding. We'll do the same. We'll notify through a diplomatic note” Bozkır said.
Citizens from more than 100 countries can travel to Turkey visa-free or by obtaining an online visa through an e-visa system as a result of the government's long-standing visa exemption policy with almost all countries in the world, particularly African and Asian countries.
The EU, on the other hand, applies a very strict visa policy for all African and Asian countries and urges Turkey to align its visa policy accordingly. The EU's recent Progress Report said “[…] The [Turkish] e-visa [system] is not in line with the [EU] acquis and is not an effective tool to identify and prevent the entry of irregular migrants into Turkey. Turkey also still needs to align itself further with the EU's visa requirements and exemptions and harmonize its visa policy towards EU member states.”
Turkey to renew passports
A summit held between Turkey and the EU on Nov. 29 in Brussels provided an agreement between the two parties for the visa liberalization of Turkish citizens starting from Oct. 1, 2016, in the case of full and efficient implementation of the readmission agreement. However, Turkey needs to fulfill benchmarks in 72 different titles before this agreement can be implemented.
One of the benchmarks is the renewal of passports, Bozkır said. “New biometric passports will also hold fingerprints. All will be implemented within a road map,” he stressed, adding Turkey had made progress on issues related with 63 benchmarks.
The protection of personal data, a law on the prevention of illegal human smuggling and the ratification of some Council of Europe conventions were among the deficiencies Turkey will fulfill in this period, he said. “We'll accomplish all of the necessary commitments on time for visa-free [travel to] Europe,” he said. “I can tell you that there is consensus among EU countries, including Greek Cyprus, on granting Turkey visa-free travel to Europe.”
Turkey-EU to hold another summit
Bozkır said Turkey and eight like-minded EU countries (Germany, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria and Greece) would come together at a meeting on the sidelines of the EU council meeting on Dec. 17 in Brussels to further discuss the implementation of the agreement provided on Nov 29.