Readmission agreement renews hope between EU and Turkey

EU immigration

The signing of the readmission agreement and the initiation of the visa liberalization dialogue between Turkey and the EU may open the road to further economic integration.

On 16 December 2013, Turkey and the European Union initiated the visa liberalization dialogue to work towards the elimination of visa requirements for Turkish citizens traveling to the Schengen zone for a short-term stay. In an official ceremony in Ankara, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström signed a readmission agreement with the Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Güler and initiated the visa liberalization dialogue jointly with the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu.

According to the readmission agreement provisions, both sides will accept their own nationals, third-country nationals and stateless persons who entered the territory of a state directly arriving from the territory of the other state in an irregular manner. For Turkey, this means that the irregular migrants who entered the European Union via Turkey will be returned to Turkey. The Turkish-Greek border is a frequently used crossing point for irregular migrants and between 38,000 and 58,000 people per year were found to have illegally crossed this border in recent years.

Turkey has been reluctant to sign a readmission agreement, fearing the financial burden of readmission as well as the lack of clear commitment on the part of the EU regarding visa liberalization process. Turkish officials frequently criticized EU’s unwillingness to offer a visa-free travel roadmap similar to what was offered to five Western Balkan states. Yet, the current developments created new hope. According to the agreement, European Union member states will vote on granting visa-free travel to Turkish citizens for short-term stay after Turkey fulfills the obligations stated in the agreement.

Euro-sceptic critiques voice concerns that the European Union may not go through with the visa liberalization process, even if Turkey fulfills its obligations. This argument echoes the sentiments of many Turkish citizens who believe that the European Union will never accept Turkey as a full member. Thus, the visa liberalization dialogue is crucial since it will provide a concrete outcome for Turkish citizens. If visa liberalization for Turkish citizens is achieved without any delays, it will create optimism for future EU prospects and renew confidence in the EU within Turkish society.

Although not a part of the EU membership process, visa liberalization dialogue could provide new momentum for EU-Turkey relations. Turkey has been a candidate country since 1999 and began negotiations to join the EU in 2005. However, political obstacles including the Cyprus problem as well as resistance of certain EU countries such as Germany and France to the full membership of Turkey slowed the process down. The visa liberalization process offers a new channel for cooperation that can bring the EU and Turkey closer together.

Visa liberalization can further intensify economic integration of Turkey to the European Union. The Turkish Industry and Business Association welcomed the signing of the readmission agreement and the visa liberalization dialogue document, while stressing that the visa requirements prevent the Custom’s Union from functioning fairly. Since 1995, Turkey has had a Customs Union agreement with the European Union that covers industrial goods but not services, agriculture, or public procurement.  Under the Custom’s Union, Turkish goods can circulate freely in the European Union but the people who make or sell them cannot. Visa liberalization for Turkish citizens can have a positive impact on the volume of trade between the European Union and Turkey.

The positive effects of Turkey’s 2010 visa liberalization with the Russian Federation create expectations of a similar growth of exports to the European Union. Chairman of the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly Mehmet Buyukeksi stated that Turkey’s export to the Russian Federation increased from $4.6 billion in 2010 to $6.6 billion in 2012. According to of the Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet, officials estimate that Turkish exports to the EU will increase by 8% in the short term to rise from $60 billion to $65 billion.

The possibility to travel to the EU without a visa will create economic benefits for Turkey and renew interest in European integration within Turkish society. As the visa liberalization process depends on the political will of the EU and Turkey, it is crucial for both parties to continue to view the process as “a simple matter of common interest.”

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Categories: Economics, Europe

Author:Ekin Ozbakkaloglu

Ekin Ozbakkaloglu holds an MA in Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies from Georgetown University and a BA in International Relations from Galatasaray University in Istanbul, Turkey. Her main fields of interest are politics and security in Eurasia, especially in Turkey and the South Caucasus, but her work also focuses on peace and conflict studies, humanitarian affairs, and the European Union. Since November 2013, she is working with the European Stability Initiative’s Istanbul office. She has formerly worked at the Caucasian Institute for Economic and Social Research based in Tbilisi/Georgia, and interned with the Future of Peace Operations program of the Stimson Center in Washington DC and the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi/Georgia.

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