The Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said on Wednesday that Turkey expects the European Union to lift its visa regime for Turkish nationals soon, after Turkey submitted a paper detailing Turkey’s roadmap for the fulfillment of the remaining benchmarks out of 72 for visa liberalization, in return for the implementation of the Readmission Agreement.
Kalin told to the press that Turkish EU ambassador, Faruk Kaymakci has submitted the draft documents to the EU Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans on February 6, after all the outstanding criteria had been met. Though he did not provide any further details, he insisted that visa liberalization for Turkish nationals in 2018 would accelerate Turkey-EU relations.
The submission of the aforementioned documents has happened after many Turkish officials previously notified that such thing would be taking place in the next coming days.
A spokesperson of the EU Commission acknowledged that the Turkish ambassador had “handed over a paper regarding the remaining visa liberalization benchmarks” to Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans during talks on Wednesday.
She admitted that the Commission will study the paper carefully in the following weeks, noting that respecting the benchmarks requires “legislative and procedural changes.”
The move to lift the visa regime for Turkish citizens started in early 2016 as part of a broader migrant swap agreement with Ankara that aimed to prevent the flows of Syrian refugees into Greece.
The initial plan aimed to lift the visa regime by the end of the same year, but a failed military putsch in July hindered the process. The ensuing state-orchestrated purge resulted in tens of thousands of people incarcerated and dismissed from their posts. The visa issue no longer featured prominently in EU-Turkey relations, as Ankara did not want to see alleged Gülenists (supporters of America-based cleric Fethullah Gülen whom Turkey accuses to be behind the purge) fleeing the country and escaping prosecution.
Visa-free travel was promised to Turkey as part of 2016’s migrant deal between Turkey and the EU block countries. In return for taking back failed asylum-seekers who had initially landed in Greece from Turkey, Ankara was to access EU funding as well as secure visa-free travel for its citizens.
While Turkey has claimed that the EU has delayed in implementing the deal entirely, on the other hand the EU had sought from Turkey to revise its anti-terrorism legislation, claiming existing laws were being used to stifle dissent.
The EU diplomats believe that Turkey will push the issue of visa liberalization during the Summit in Varna, which will be held in March 26. According to spokesperson Kalin, the Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan will be present at the summit himself.
Aside of Erdogan, present in the summit will also be the EU Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, where they will discuss “subjects of mutual interest and recent developments in Turkey, that obviously includes the rule of law and fundamental rights,” in the port city of Varna, Bulgaria.