Thursday, 13 October 2011

EU Eases Visa Rules for Turks

ISTANBUL—The European Union on Thursday eased visa procedures for Turkish citizens, just a day after Turkey again raised onerous visa requirements for its businessmen and citizens as a key source of friction in the relationship.

Under changes announced Thursday by the European Commission, EU consulates in Turkey will now have uniform lists of documents they can ask visa applicants to provide.

Turkey, which started negotiating for EU membership six years ago and has had a customs union with the bloc since the mid-1990s, has become increasingly impatient as the bloc has eased visa requirements for countries in the Balkans and elsewhere, but not Turkey.

Responding to the move in a phone interview Thursday evening, Turkey's EU minister Egemen Bagis—who had attacked Brussels over the visa issue Wednesday—welcomed the move, but said it wasn't enough.

"This is a very good first step, but the point we want to get to is for Turkish citizens to be able to travel to Europe without a visa," Mr. Bagis said in a phone interview. "Turks are the only citizens of a country negotiating for [EU] membership who need a visa to travel to the EU."

Mr. Bagis said the commission had promised him that further partial steps would follow, namely that in future Turks would be able to get multiple-entry, instead of just single-entry, visas to the EU's visa-free Schengen area, and that offices would be set up in Turkey to ease the process. EU citizens don't need a visa to visit Turkey.

Resistance to easing visa restrictions for Turks has come from EU governments rather than the European Commission, Turkish officials say. Turkey has a population of 74 million and income levels much lower than in core EU countries. Governments have worried over a potential flood of Turkish immigration that would be politically unpopular at home.

Turkey's economic success over the past decade, which has seen gross domestic product per capita triple to around $10,000, played a role in Thursday's decision, according to Mr. Bagis. "It is not enough to be right, you have to be strong and Turkey has become stronger," Mr. Bagis said.

Turkish businessmen in particular have long complained that while their exports and investments are welcome in the EU, they are not. The EU is by far Turkey's largest trading partner.

"We know cases when Turkish businessmen were prevented from coming to fairs in Europe or were given only two or three-day visas for one-week events," said Bahadir Kaleagasi, Brussels-based international coordinator for TUSIAD, Turkey's main business association. "Countries could even require for land registry documents."

An EU official said the change had been in the works for some time and was designed to address such complaints.

"Some countries could ask for marriage certificates. Military certificates could be asked from young men who were suspected of trying to escape [compulsory military service in the] Turkish army," said Erwan Marteil, Counselor in the European Commission's Ankara office.

The new rules on visa documentation entered into force immediately Thursday and will apply to all of the Schengen visa area, which covers more than 25 European countries, including several such as Iceland that aren't EU members.
Source: Wall Street Journal


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