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Visa Dispute Between Turkey and EU Further Colors Relations

Turkey's chief EU negotiator Egemen Bagis addresses the media after EU Turkey accession talks at the EU Council in Brussels (file photo)

Turkey's chief EU negotiator Egemen Bagis addresses the media after EU Turkey accession talks at the EU Council in Brussels (file photo)

A new dispute between Turkey and the European Union is threatening to further undermine Ankara's remaining faith in its membership bid. The dispute centers on Brussels easing visa controls on Balkan countries, but continuing its controls on Turkish visas.

Observers say a decision by the European Union to lift most travel restrictions on Balkan countries has annoyed many Turks.

None more so than those who have to regularly apply for visas to travel to the European Union for business, like Sibel Aktas, who spoke while waiting outside the Italian consulate for a travel visa.

"Of course it is bad, we are gathering a lot of papers and together with these papers we are going to a lot of places," she said. "So, it takes a lot of time and we spend money for some of the papers. I hope we get rid of this process."

The EU refusal to ease visa requirements for Turkey, even though the country is applying for full membership in the bloc, has become a focal point of growing anger in Ankara. Turkey's Minister for EU Affairs, Egemen Bagis, is crying foul.

"Well this is just another double standard that we are complaining about in the European Union," he said. "There are fears in Turkey against the European Union and fears against Turkey in the EU. And the real underlining reason for the fears? We do not know one another enough. People usually fear countries they do not know enough about. Once you get to know them, you find out there strengths and weaknesses, then you realize there is nothing to be afraid of."

But Turkish analysts say arguments like these are making little headway in Brussels.

According to the co-leader of the European Green Party, Daniel Cohn Bendit, even though the European Union allows visa-free travel with poor countries like Albania, it is not a case of double standards, it is a case of relative size.

"Albania is not a problem, Turkey is a big country. This is a debate I have had with the Turks," he said. "Free travel between Turkey and Europe is an immense opening, there are fears, there are problems, the Germans for the working market is a problem. So we have to push in this direction you know."

But frustrations are growing, especially as Turkish businessmen and truck drivers have won a series of cases in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled a customs treaty Turkey signed with the European Union entitled Turkish businessmen to the right to visa-free travel.

Cohn Bendit says the European Union needs cooperation from Ankara if it is to stem illegal immigration. Turkey is a main transit country into the European Union for illegal migrants coming from Asia minor and Africa.

Brussels is pressing Ankara to allow illegal migrants that enter the European Union through its territory to be sent back to Turkey. Cohn Bendit says this Readmission Treaty is being billed as the price for Brussels easing restrictions.

"Turkey will sign a readmission program and Europe will ease the visa question," he said.

Cohn Bendit says a deal is expected to be reached early next year, but analysts say such horse trading will do little to ease feelings in Ankara that there is little goodwill left toward Turkey in Brussels.