19th Mar 2018

Turkey hopes for EU visa breakthrough this week

  • Yenel: 'It will be a game changer' (Photo: svenwerk)

Turkey is aiming to tell its 75 million citizens on Thursday (21 June) they can visit the EU without visas in a couple of years' time.

The breakthrough concerns a technical step designed to end a toxic stalemate.

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The EU had in the past said Turkey must first sign a readmission agreement on illegal migrants, while Turkey had said the EU should make the first move.

But on Wednesday, EU ambassadors are expected to task the European Commission with drafting an Action Plan for Turkish reforms on passport and border standards.

The sequence of events is to see EU employment ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday rubber stamp the move. Turkey will the same day initial the readmission pact.

When the commission puts forward the Action Plan, Turkey will sign the readmission deal. When the reforms are implemented (in 2014 or 2015), the visa regime will be lifted.

An EU Council source said Austria, Cyprus and France still have "reservations," but there is sufficient "pressure" for them to back down.

"It's a little courageous to say that we are absolutely sure. But we are hopeful," Preben Aamann, the Danish EU presidency spokesman, told this website.

"It will be a game changer. We hope to show that the EU is still relevant for Turkey," Selim Yenel, Turkey's EU ambassador, told EUobserver.

He noted that visa queues at EU consulates and two years of stalled accession talks have "poisoned" relations.

"Nobody cares any more what the EU says ... There are very few people who think that accession will ever happen and people are saying that if they don't want us, why do we actually need them?" he said.

With Cyprus to hold the EU chairmanship from July to December there is no prospect of unfreezing accession talks for now.

But Yenel hopes to open three new chapters - on economic policy, institutions and "any other business" - under the Irish EU presidency in 2013.

He said former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy was blocking the chapters for unspecified "personal reasons" and in order to curry favour with right-wing voters.

But with elections out of the way, French President Francois Hollande's people have given "signals" that the blockage will be lifted.

In terms of bilateral relations with its EU neighbours, Turkey is wary of the new Greek leader, Antonis Samaras.

"He was a difficult person in the past. We hope he will not be so when he is Prime Minister, but when he was foreign minister, he had problems with Macedonia and with us," Yenel said.

He had nothing nice to say about Cyprus.

Noting that Nicosia is poised to borrow even more money from Moscow to prop up its banks, he said its relationship with Russia is bad for EU values.

"They've been very cozy with the Russians, a lot of the illegal gains [of Russian businessmen] have been whitewashed on the island," he said.

"We have seen some ships that have gone to Cyprus and then to Syria without being checked. We're surprised how lenient the EU has been on this. It's unbelievable," he added, referring to Russian arms shipments to Syria which refuelled in Cyprus despite EU sanctions.

Correction: this story was altered on 19 July 2012. The original said the Turkish population is 80 million people

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