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23rd Feb 2019

Visas highlighted as irritant in EU-Turkey relations

  • Old visa stamp for entry into Turkey. Selected EU countries, like the UK, still need a visa to enter Turkey - a rubber-stamp process at the airport costing a few euros (Photo: sleepymyf)

Turkish EU affairs minister Egemen Bagis has again highlighted the EU's visa regime as a source of friction in EU-Turkey relations, but EU officials deny there is a big problem.

Speaking to a packed room of 750-or-so Turkish businessmen at a conference in Istanbul on Thursday (17 November), Bagis drew noisy applause when he said: "No other [EU accession] negotiating country is waiting in visa queues, but we are."

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He referred on several occasions to "narrow-minded politicians in certain EU countries" - code for France and Germany - as being to blame.

Bagis told EUobserver later: "Many people are so afraid of not getting a visa they don't even apply. And businessmen get three-day visas, so they cannot complete their meetings. Can you imagine this? A senior businessman getting a three-day visa?"

Muhammet, a Turkish-origin Belgian businessman attending the event, noted that visa-issuing companies working on behalf of EU consulates can show naked prejudice.

"I know one girl, a graduate student from south-east Turkey, who was asked how much she had in her bank account. When she told them, they rejected her on the grounds that a young girl from that region could not have so much money," he said. "People in the EU still see Turks as poor farm workers as if it was the 1950s. But they should come here and see this," he added, pointing to the Istanbul skyline.

The Turkish economy grew 10.2 percent in the first half of 2011. The Paris-based think-tank, the OECD predicts it will become the second biggest economy in Europe, after Germany, by 2050.

The frustration comes after the EU rolled-out visa-free travel for Western Balkan EU candidates over the past two years. It has launched visa-free talks with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine and is considering talks with Russia.

For his part, enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele said in a speech: "We want to convince member states to put short-term measures into practice to improve visa issuance to Turkish applicants ... Measures include the harmonisation of supporting documents (which has been done recently); visa fee exemptions; multiple entry visas with a long period of validity and perhaps even consular coverage."

The EU's ambassador to Turkey, Marc Pierini, ahead of the Istanbul event told Bagis that visa problems are a myth - according to him, around 98 percent of visa applications by Turkish businessmen and 96 percent of private applications go through.

An EU official in Fuele's delegation said a major obstacle to visa-free talks is Turkey's unwillingness to sign a readmission agreement - a pact to take back migrants who get into the EU illegally.

A 2010 study by the Turkey and Belgium-based NGOs - IKV and ECAS - appears to give lie to Pierini's figures. Out of 823 visa applications looked at by the survey, 420 - 51 percent - were rejected.

"With [French President] Sarkozy running against [far-right candidate] Le Pen in the elections next year, there is no chance for visa-free talks with Turkey for now," Hans Martens, the head of the Brussels-based think-tank, the EPC, which put on the Istanbul event together with Turkish business organisation, Tuskon, told this website.

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