What is the Visa Liberalisation Dialogue with Turkey?
The EU launched the Visa Liberalisation Dialogue with Turkey on 16 December 2013, in parallel with the signature of the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement. The Dialogue is based on the Roadmap towards a visa free regime with Turkey (the Roadmap).
The Roadmap sets out the requirements that Turkey needs to meet in order to enable the European Parliament and the Council to put Turkey on the visa-free list which would allow Turkish citizens holding a biometric passport in line with EU standards to travel for short stays (i.e. of 90 days within any 180-day period) in the Schengen area without a visa.
On 20 October 2014, the Commission adopted its First report on progress by Turkey in fulfilling the requirements of its visa liberalisation roadmap.
On 29 November 2015 an EU-Turkey Summit took place, where the Turkish side expressed its commitment to accelerate the fulfilment of the Roadmap, including by bringing forward the application of all the provisions of the EU-Turkey Readmission agreement, with the objective of obtaining visa liberalisation by October 2016.
On 4 March 2016 the Commission adopted its Second report on progress by Turkey in fulfilling the requirements of its visa liberalisation roadmap accompanied by a Commission Staff Working Document.
The timetable was further accelerated when, on 7 and 18 March 2016, meetings of Heads of State or Government of the EU and Turkey took place. The Summit concluded with an EU-Turkey Statement which stipulates that "the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap will be accelerated vis-à-vis all participating Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016, provided that all benchmarks have been met. To this end Turkey will take the necessary steps to fulfil the remaining requirements to allow the Commission to make, following the required assessment of compliance with the benchmarks, an appropriate proposal by the end of April on the basis of which the European Parliament and the Council can make a final decision".
In view of the June 2016 deadline, today, the Commission is adopting its Third Progress Report, and tabling a legislative proposal to enable the European Parliament and Council to take the necessary decisions to allow Turkish citizens to travel without a visa for short stays in the Schengen area, once all the requirements have been met by Turkey.
How many countries already benefit from visa free travel to the EU?
Almost 60 countries worldwide benefit from visa free travel to the European Union. The full list is contained in Annex II of the Visa Regulation, accessible here.
Why is the Commission proposing visa-free travel for citizens of Turkey today?
In the last months, the Turkish authorities have further intensified their efforts to fulfil the conditions of the Visa Liberalisation Dialogue, including, for example, opening up the labour market to non-Syrian refugees and allowing non-discriminatory visa-free access to the Turkish territories for citizens of all 28 EU Member States. The Commission acknowledges the good progress made by the Turkish authorities so far, and encourages them to step up these efforts in order to meet all requirements in order to obtain visa liberalisation by the end of June.
In order to meet the June deadline for adoption by the co-legislators, as set by the 18 March EU-Turkey Statement, a Commission proposal to put Turkey on the visa free list has to be tabled today to allow an eight-week period to elapse between a draft being made available to national Parliaments and its adoption.
The Commission is presenting its proposal today in the understanding that the Turkish authorities will fulfil, as a matter of urgency and as they committed to do so on 18 March 2016, the outstanding benchmarks of the Roadmap.
In order to assist the co-legislators in their deliberations, the Commission will continue monitoring the steps which the Turkish authorities take to fulfil the outstanding requirements of the Roadmap.
Has Turkey met all the benchmarks?
As indicated in today's Report, five requirements out of 72 have not yet been fully fulfilled by the Turkish authorities but should now be completed as a matter of urgency.
5 benchmarks still to be met by Turkey:
The Commission invites the Turkish authorities to urgently undertake the measures that are necessary to complete the outstanding benchmarks of the Roadmap before June 2016, namely:
- adopting the measure to prevent corruption foreseen by the Roadmap, ensuring an effective follow-up to the recommendations issued by the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO);
- aligning the legislation on personal data protection with EU standards, notably to ensure that the data protection authority can act in an independent manner and that the activities of law enforcement agencies fall within the scope of the law;
- concluding an operational cooperation agreement with Europol;
- offering effective judicial cooperation in criminal matters to all EU Member States;
- revising the legislation and practices on terrorism in line with European standards, , notably by better aligning the definition of terrorism in order to narrow the scope of the definition and by introducing a criterion of proportionality.
The Commission has adopted a proposal to place Turkey on the visa free list on the understanding that these remaining 5 benchmarks will be met by Turkey as a matter of urgency and as the Turkish authorities committed to doing on 18 March 2016.
2 benchmarks which could not objectively be completed in the given timeframe:
Two requirements need a longer timeline for implementation for practical and procedural reasons. This has made it impossible for them to be fulfilled in a complete manner by the accelerated time for the implementation of the visa liberalisation roadmap decided upon by EU Heads of State or Government and Turkey on 18 March 2016.
This concerns, firstly, the upgrading the existing biometric passports so as to include security features in line with the EU standards. Given the acceleration of the visa liberalisation process, it is objectively not possible for Turkey to have completely fulfilled this benchmark in time. As an interim solution, as of June 2016, Turkey will issue biometric passports with short validity including both the facial image and fingerprints of the passport holders who wish to make use of visa-free travel to the EU. They will be encrypted to International Civil Aviation Organisation standards. By October 2016, Turkey will issue EU standard passports. This solution in any case means that only Turkish citizens with a biometric passport will be able to enter the EU without a visa.
The second benchmark which could not objectively be completed in time concerns fully implementing the provisions of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement, including those related to the readmission of third country nationals. This is not possible simply because these provisions will only enter into force as of 1 June 2016.
Who will decide on visa liberalisation for Turkey and when will it become effective?
The European Parliament and the Council will decide on the adoption of the Commission's proposal in the ordinary legislative procedure. In the Council, the decision on the Commission's proposal will be taken by qualified majority voting. In Parliament, it will be subject to simple majority voting. Once the co-legislators have adopted the amendment, the visa exemption for Turkish citizens will become effective from the day after the publication in the EU Official Journal.
What would happen in case of a sudden increase of irregular migration from Turkey?
Visa liberalisation is a core part of the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March which is designed to decrease irregular migration. The proposal for placing Turkey on the visa free list also clearly specifies that the visa exemption is dependent both upon continued implementation of the requirements of the visa liberalisation roadmap and of the European Union-Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016.
Visa liberalisation is not a one way street but must be conditioned and can always be withdrawn if the conditions are not met.
The is why the Visa Regulation already includes a Suspension Mechanism which would allow the EU to temporarily re-impose visa requirements for nationals of a third country in case of a substantial and sudden increase of irregular migration from that country. This suspension mechanism can be triggered by any Member State, by notifying the Commission that it is confronted with an emergency situation which it cannot remedy on its own, flowing from visa-free travel. The Member States concerned can activate this mechanism in case of a substantial and sudden increase in the number of:
- nationals of that third country found illegally overstaying;
- unfounded asylum applications from nationals of that third country;
- rejected readmission requests to that third country for its own nationals.
Following recent discussions with Member States in the context of the current migratory situation in the European Union and of the successful conclusion of several visa liberalisation dialogues with neighbouring countries, the European Commission has today proposed to strengthen this suspension mechanism. The Commission's proposal – which needs to be adopted by both Parliament and Council – will make the mechanism easier to use by extending the possible grounds for suspension and by drastically speeding the process up, cutting the reference periods and deadlines down by two thirds. Under the new proposal, the Commission will also be able to trigger the mechanism on its own.
What additional measures will the Commission take to ensure visa liberalisation does not lead to increased irregular migration?
On 6 April 2016 the Commission proposed setting up an EU Entry/Exit System (EES) to strengthen the Schengen area's external borders. The main objectives of this proposal was to improve the quality of border checks for third-country nationals and to ensure a systematic and reliable identification of over-stayers.
Adoption and enforcement of this draft legislation will be an important factor in ensuring lawful use of the visa-free provisions by third-country nationals in the Schengen area, and will help to prevent or mitigate irregular migration from countries with visa-free travel.
Furthermore, the Commission will propose in autumn 2016 to establish an EU Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), a system for visa-free nationals modelled on the U.S. 'ESTA' system which will contribute to maintaining and strengthening the security of the Schengen area.