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Turks seek freedom to travel to Europe without visas 28 juin 2012

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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International Herald Tribune (USA) Thursday, June 28, 2012

By Susanne Güsten, Istanbul

Support for joining E.U. cools, but desire to visit easily remains strong

Looking back across the Bosporus to Europe last week, Ebru Kaymak, 22, said she had few illusions about the state of Turkish relations with the Continent.

« I believe we will never join the European Union, because their demands will never cease, » Ms. Kaymak, a nursing student, said as she sipped tea aboard a ferry taking her home to the Asian side of Istanbul after class. « Even if we fulfill them all, they will simply add another rung to the ladder. »

« Frankly, I don’t even want us to join, » she added. « I think Turkey is fine the way it is. »

Her classmate, 23-year-old Sukru Durmaz, agreed.

« Our country’s economy is fine, we are doing well, we don’t need anything from anybody, » he said. But then he thought of one thing Turks do want from the Union – visa liberalization and the freedom to travel to Europe.

« It’s simply unfair that outsiders can freely come here but we cannot freely go outside, » he said. « It’s an injustice. »

Prospects for Turkey’s half-century-old efforts to join the Union have seldom looked as bleak as they do now: Accession negotiations are stalled, a divided Cyprus is set to take up the rotating E.U. presidency on Sunday, and Ankara is determined to freeze relations for the duration of the six-month term.

Popular support for joining the Union is at a low point in Turkey, having dropped to 47 percent this year among Turkish youths from 74 percent six years ago, according to figures published last month by the state statistical bureau. Among people 25 and older, support fell to 44 percent from 63 percent over the period.

« A few years ago, I thought E.U. membership would be a good thing, but seeing how things have been going for the member states recently, I now think it would be better for us not to join, » said Esad Canberk Kara, 22, a software engineering student, as he waited for the ferry to Asia after a morning of exams.

Still, he said, he would like to be able to travel to Europe more freely.

« Turks are discriminated against » when it comes to freedom of movement and visa requirements in Europe, Mr. Kara said. « Something must be done about that. »

As enthusiasm for Europe has waned among Turks, in part because of the Union’s own problems and Turkey’s rise as an economic and regional power, the visa issue has become the chief grievance for many young Turks.

While citizens of most European countries either do not need a visa to enter Turkey or can easily buy one upon arrival, Turks wishing to travel to Europe must apply for a visa in advance and provide extensive documentation like invitations and airline reservations. They also must supply proof of income in Turkey, of financing for the journey and health insurance, plus pay an application fee of €60, or $75.

Even then, a visa is not guaranteed. Refusal rates stood at 10 percent by Germany, 12 percent by Sweden and 14 percent by Belgium, according to figures published this month by the European Strategic Initiative, a research institution based in Istanbul.

Last week, in the waning days of the Danish E.U. presidency, the Union asked the European Commission to take steps toward « a visa-free regime between the E.U. and Turkey as a gradual and long-term goal. »

In exchange, Ankara pledged to cooperate with the Union on efforts to stem the flow of third-country migrants across its borders into the 26-nation Schengen area, agreeing to sign a readmission agreement that obliges it to accept migrants who have reached Europe via Turkish territory.

« This is a milestone in the process for abolishing the unfair visa regime that has been applied to Turkish citizens by E.U. member states, » Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s minister of E.U. affairs, said in a statement last week.

« I believe that this significant step taken toward visa-free travel will also contribute to Turkey’s E.U. accession process, » he added.

According to Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul, the outcome is « crucial » to the future of relations between Turkey and Europe.

The visa issue, he said, « is the only instrument that has the capacity to change the atmospherics of the relationship. »

Those atmospherics have been highly charged in the days before Cyprus takes over the rotating E.U. presidency, with Turkey’s trade minister, Zafer Caglayan, calling the Union « two-faced and hypocritical » during a recent interview with ABHaber, a Turkish Web site on European affairs.

Feeling also ran high at a meeting of the E.U.-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee this month, where Mr. Bagis reminded his « dear friend Stefan » Fule, the E.U.’s enlargement commissioner and a Czech, that Turkey had already applied to join the Union « when your country was in the Communist bloc. »

That frustration was shared by the young ferry passengers.

« Frankly, it looks to me like the E.U. simply does not want Turkey, » Yunus Ulas, 29, a tourism manager, said as he crossed from Asia to meet colleagues for tea on the European side.

That perception could change as progress is made in the talks on reducing visa requirements, Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Strategic Initiative, said during an interview last week.

The talks, which will focus on the specific steps toward visa freedom, are to begin as soon as the readmission agreement is signed during a visit to Ankara by the E.U. home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, before the end of June, according to a statement from the E.U. presidency.

If all goes according to this plan, 2012 could end up counting as a good year for Turkey-E.U. relations in spite of the stalemate of the Cypriot term in the E.U. presidency, Mr. Knaus said, with Turkish popular support of an accession sure to perk up as a result.

« In Croatia, too, popular support for E.U. accession rode a roller coaster, dipping as low as 25 percent whenever the Croats felt unfairly treated by the Union, » Mr. Knaus said. « Whenever progress was made, approval rates picked up again, until finally two-thirds voted for accession in the referendum. »

The visa talks are expected to last two to three years, but « with some effort could be shortened, » a Turkish official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press, wrote in an e-mail last week.

« Hopefully within a couple of years we should have visa-free travel for Turks into the Schengen area, » he said.

Casting off from the European shore aboard the ferry, Mr. Kara, the software engineering student, said he hoped it would come to that. « I would like to go and see Italy someday, » he said.


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