Turkey and the EU have moved closer to lifting restrictions to Turkish citizens visiting the EU.
The European Union (EU) Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos stated on Wednesday that Turkey is very close to completing the 72 criteria necessary for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens into the EU.
Avramopoulos the EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs added that Turkey had met almost all the requirements set by the EU, except for seven.
EU Commission spokesperson speaking to TRT World said, “The Commission and Turkey are engaged in a dialogue to find solutions, including the legislative and procedural changes needed on all the outstanding benchmarks.”
The EU began discussions on visa liberalisation with Turkey in 2013 and the roadmap to lift visa restrictions for Turkish citizens started in 2016 as part of a wider discussion on the flow of Syrian refugees to Greece and onwards into the EU.
Turkey and the EU at the height of the refugee crisis in June 2016 signed an agreement that would stem the flow of Syrian migrants into the EU. The deal would have ostensibly made the lives of Syrian migrants better and would significantly ease the political pressure on various European countries.
Turkey has been at the forefront of dealing with the Syrian humanitarian crisis taking in as many as 3.5 million Syrians, with the government spending upwards of $30 billion in housing, education and integration efforts.
The EU had initially promised Turkey $3.7 billion of assistance to help with the refugee crisis, however much of the money has not materialised.
In May 2016 the EU Commission recommended to the Council of Europe and the European Union Parliament to lift the visa regime for Turkish citizenship upon the completion of the outstanding criteria.
Turkey, in contrast, has operated a relaxed visa system with most EU countries with many allowed to enter Turkey with national ID cards or visa on arrival.
Visa process politicised
Turkey’s relationship with the EU has experienced positive momentum in recent months in particular as Berlin and Paris have sought allies against a US president who has slapped tariffs on EU exports and undermined global trade. Turkey has not remained immune to US tariffs.
However, Turkey’s visa arrangement with the EU, a largely technical process has in the past been politicised by internal division amongst the EU member states who have been against any deal with Ankara.
The arrival of more than 1 million refugees within EU member states has caused widespread political and economic fractures and the rise of far-right parties who have largely been hostile to Muslim migration in particular.
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel is facing a series of domestic challenges to her leadership and a political challenge by the ascendant far right AfD party.
Whereas the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is leading a right-wing government that has staked a highly hostile position towards Muslims, immigrants and Turkey.
Turkey’s Minister of EU Affairs Omer Celik has described Vienna’s position towards Turkey as “turned from oppositional to hostile.”
Dr Merve Seren, Assistant Professor at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, speaking to TRT World argued that part of the problem with Turkey’s visa process and its broader membership application is that Turkey has not been treated like other candidate countries.
However, “if the visa liberalisation process succeeds then it could act as an important trust building measure between the EU and Turkey,” added Seren.