Turkey starts visa-free talks with EU
04.12.13 @ 18:53
Berlin - Turkey is starting visa liberalisation talks with the EU, a first step in a process that could last years.
"This is a historic day for the Turkish people and the EU," Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a joint press conference with two EU commissioners in Brussels.
Davutoglu said the talks, due to kick off in Ankara on 16 December, should not last longer than three years, after which Turkish citizens will be able to travel visa-free to the EU.
But EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who was standing beside Davutoglu, would not be drawn on a timeframe.
"It is a bit too early to set a date when Turkish citizens will travel freely. Nobody has any reason to delay it, but there is a process that has to go through first," she said.
The deal became possible after Turkey agreed to sign a readmission agreement with the EU, allowing irregular migrants to be sent back to Turkey.
Greece and Bulgaria in recent months have been pushing back people, including Syrian refugees, to the Turkish border, but there is no formal agreement for Ankara to take them back.
Malmstrom said more "technical aid" would be also part of the deal. She thanked Turkey for having hosted hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.
"We have to commend Turkey for taking responsibility for people in need," Malmstrom said.
Turkey is an official candidate country negotiating the terms of EU membership since 2005. But its talks have been lengthier and more complex than with any other EU-hopeful country.
Germany and France have insisted that the talks be "open-ended" meaning the country will not automatically become a member state at the end of negotiations.
A brutal crackdown on protesters earlier this year put the talks on freeze until October. They resumed, but several so-called negotiation chapters are permanently blocked by Cyprus, whose northern part is recognised only by Ankara.
Starting visa freedom talks puts Turkey in the same boat as other "neighbourhood" countries who have even more distant membership prospects: Moldova and Georgia.
"We have all worked hard for this important part of the positive agenda with Turkey aimed to inject new dynamism in our relationship," EU neighbourhood policy commissioner Stefan Fuele said.