Turkey has declared that visa liberalization to allow Turkish citizens visa-free travel within the Schengen Area is now a top priority in its agenda with the European Union.
The announcement was made on May 9th at the sixth meeting of the Reform Action Group, an initiative implemented by the Turkish government to discuss the political, economic and legal reforms for the ongoing process of Turkish accession to the EU.
The declaration stated that in the first meeting held under Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s leadership, the group clarified the steps to be taken in order to fulfill remaining benchmarks set by the EU in order to finalize the Visa Liberalization Dialogue.
The announcement follows the conclusion of negotiations between the EU and Turkey for the agreement on the Exchange of Personal Data between Europol and the Turkish Competent Authorities for Fighting Serious Crime and Terrorism. The agreement was seen as a crucial step towards the goal of allowing Turkish citizens visa-free access to the EU.
Visa Liberalization with the European Union
The European Union began the visa liberalization dialogue with Turkey in December 2013, deciding on a roadmap of 72 requirements that had to be fulfilled in order to implement visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. Since then, the EU has complied three reports on Turkey’s progress, and in 2016 announced that the country only had to meet 5 further benchmarks to meet the conditions of visa liberalization.
In May of the same year, the European Commission sent a proposal to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to suggest lifting the visa regime for the citizens of Turkey once the remaining benchmarks had been met.
However, this progress was abruptly halted in July when the 2016 Turkish coup d’état attempt occurred, and thousands of government officials were either incarcerated or dismissed from their posts.
When the negotiations picked up again, Turkey still had to meet three remaining benchmarks for visa liberalization, involving finalizing Turkey’s anti-terrorism legislation, closing a deal with the European Police Service, and setting regulations on the protection of personal data.
Now that most of the remaining benchmarks have been met, it seems that visa liberalization is only being held up by pending reforms in the Turkish Judicial System. However, in the most recent meeting, the Reform Action Group pledged that implementing new changes in line with the Judicial Reform Strategy would be a new priority.
These include a new Action Plan on Human Rights and a restructuring of the Turkish Justice Academy in order to improve the quality of human resources in the judiciary. The group affirmed that significant steps have already been taken in order to guarantee the impartiality of the Turkish judiciary, including training on ethical principles for judges and prosecutors.
By implementing these changes in the Turkish Judicial System, the Reform Action Group has met one of the reaming requirements set by the Council of Europe, making the imminent implementation of visa liberalization for Turkish citizens even more of a possibility.
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