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Turkey seeks visa-free travel in Europe

21 December 2009 [12:33] - TODAY.AZ
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has called on the European Union to allow visa-free travel for Turks despite a lack of progress on key policy issues in the candidate's membership talks.
The core of Europe's visa regime, called Schengen, is based on two agreements from 1985 and 1990. The countries in the Schengen arrangement are Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Sweden, Liechtenstein and non-EU members Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The UK and Ireland, although members of the European Union, are not part of the Schengen agreement. A Schengen visa obtained for one country is good for all countries in the arrangement. Visa requirements in Schengen zone countries were abolished on Saturday for citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

Turkey began accession talks in 2005, but is not a part of the Schengen regime that allows free movement across borders. Davutoğlu held a joint press conference on Saturday following a meeting of the Reform Monitoring Group (RİG), which consists of the justice minister, the foreign minister, the interior minister and the chief negotiator for EU affairs. Turkey will speed up efforts for the free-movement of its citizens within the EU, Davutoğlu told reporters.

“It’s unacceptable that certain Balkan countries that are in the initial stages of the membership process and have not begun negotiations have been given the Schengen privilege, while Turkey, considering the level that Turkish-EU relations have reached, has not,” Davutoğlu added. “We will follow this closely from now on,” he said.

Last month, a hotline set up for Turkish citizens to report difficulties and perceived injustices faced in the process of acquiring Schengen visas revealed the arbitrariness of EU visa officials when it comes to issuing the visas to Turks. The hotline, set up on Nov. 17 as a joint effort of the Economic Development Foundation (İKV), the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) and the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS), received 57 complaints in its first two days of going into service.

The EU agreed on Dec. 8 to begin negotiations with Turkey on one new policy area, or chapter, but kept eight others frozen because of Turkey’s failure to comply with a 2005 agreement to open its ports and airports to EU member Greek Cyprus.

Turkey has opened 11 out of 35 chapters since starting talks, and Turkish officials have expressed frustration over what they consider slow progress in membership negotiations.

Public opinion polls in Europe show that nearly half of its citizens are opposed to Muslim Turkey joining the EU.  Critics of Turkish membership cite cultural differences like religion and concerns about how well the EU can absorb a country with a population of 71 million people whose per-capita income is less than a third of the EU average.

/Todays Zaman/

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