Turkey ad­vances on road to visa-free travel to EU, eyes bet­ter ties

Global Times - - Forum - By Bu­rak Ak­inci The au­thor is a writer with the Xinhua News Agency. The ar­ti­cle first ap­peared on Xinhua. opin­ion@glob­al­times.com.cn Page Ed­i­tor: sunx­i­aobo@ glob­al­times.com.cn

Turkey wants to im­prove strained and stalled re­la­tions with the EU and will seem­ingly press for visa-free travel for its cit­i­zens dur­ing the up­com­ing EU-Turkey sum­mit in Bul­garia's Varna in March.

Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan will meet Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Junker and Euro­pean lead­ers in the Bul­gar­ian Black Sea city on March 26.

Last week, Turkey man­i­fested de­ter­mi­na­tion to restart a new chap­ter in its ail­ing re­la­tion­ship with the Euro­pean bloc by sub­mit­ting a pa­per de­tail­ing Turkey's road map for the ful­fill­ment of the re­main­ing seven bench­marks of 72 cri­te­ria for visa lib­er­al­iza­tion in re­turn for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Read­mis­sion Agree­ment.

Ankara has made scrap­ping visa re­quire­ments one of the con­di­tions for its deal with the EU, un­der which Turkey has largely stopped the un­con­trolled flow of Syr­ian mi­grants from its soil to neigh­bor­ing Greece.

Pres­i­den­tial Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that Turkey had ful­filled “all con­di­tions” on free-travel to Europe, adding that the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment hopes Brus­sels will re­spond to Ankara's will­ing­ness to im­prove ties.

The se­nior Turk­ish of­fi­cial spoke of “a new mo­men­tum to Turk­ish-EU re­la­tions.”

“The 72 cri­te­ria for visa-free travel have been com­pleted,” Kalin told re­porters in Ankara, with­out pro­vid­ing de­tails, an­nounc­ing that the per­ti­nent doc­u­ments were sub­mit­ted for un­re­stricted travel in the 26 EU states com­pris­ing the Schen­gen Area.

The main bone of con­tention in this bench­mark has been the def­i­ni­tion of ter­ror­ism in the coun­tert­er­ror­ism law that Turkey was called re­peat­edly to amend in or­der to com­ply with Euro­pean demo­cratic and ju­di­cial stan­dards.

It was be­cause of this coun­tert­er­ror­ism law that ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Ankara and Brus­sels could not be fi­nal­ized back in 2016.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, a le­gal pro­vi­sion will be added soon to the cur­rent anti-ter­ror law stat­ing that “any crit­i­cal ex­pres­sion that does not ex­ceed the bound­aries of jour­nal­ism does not con­sti­tute a crime.”

Ankara hopes that this pro­vi­sion will ful­fill the re­quired bench­mark on the anti-ter­ror law over which many jour­nal­ists and aca­demics have been jailed.

Serkan Demir­tas, Hur­riyet Daily News Ankara rep­re­sen­ta­tive and a keen con­nois­seur of Turkey-EU re­la­tions, told Xinhua that he has been told by Euro­pean sources that “the EU Com­mis­sion will now study the pa­per care­fully.”

He added that it there­fore re­flects the will of the coun­try's high­est au­thor­ity to fur­ther en­gage with the EU and could be taken as a com­mit­ment of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment to broad­en­ing the bound­aries of free­dom of ex­pres­sion in Turkey.

Turkey claimed it needed a tough se­ries of law to com­bat Kur­dish rebels and sup­port­ers of the Fethul­lah Gulen, a US-ex­iled cleric, ac­cused of mas­ter­mind­ing the failed coup. Tens of thou­sands of sus­pected mem­bers of his net­works have been jailed, de­tained or sus­pended from pub­lic of­fice de­spite Euro­pean crit­i­cism.

“This may be the first time in a very long time that Turkey has taken a con­crete step to­ward the EU, and it seems very much in ac­cor­dance with the gov­ern­ment's re­cently adopted pol­icy of rap­proche­ment with the EU af­ter a rocky pe­riod,” pointed out Demir­tas.

Some EU coun­tries fear that if the visa bar­rier was lifted, there could be a risk that many Turk­ish na­tion­als would leave their coun­try to seek asy­lum in the EU amid a cli­mate of crack­down launched af­ter a botched coup in July 2016.

Diplo­matic sources told Xinhua that in Varna, Er­do­gan is ex­pected to press the bloc not only for visa-free travel but also for im­prove­ments in the cus­tom union agree­ment that Ankara con­sid­ers as be­ing im­bal­anced and for more fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for Syr­ian refugees.

Turkey, a NATO mem­ber with an over­whelm­ing Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, started EU ac­ces­sion ne­go­ti­a­tions in 2005, but these talks have not yield ef­fec­tive re­sults partly be­cause of some coun­tries' op­po­si­tion to a full mem­ber­ship, and have fi­nally been sus­pended af­ter the failed coup of 2016 which prompted a con­tro­ver­sial emer­gency rule in Turkey, still en­forced as to­day.

In re­cent months, Er­do­gan vis­ited France, Greece and Italy, sig­nal­ing that his coun­try is ready to mend ties with the bloc amid a sharp de­cline of pro-Euro­pean fer­vor amongst Turks.

Nev­er­the­less, if both the EU and Turkey seem to re­frain from mu­tual harsh rhetoric, it is ob­vi­ous that hu­man rights and demo­cratic prin­ci­ples is­sues re­main at the core of the Euro­pean vi­sion.

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