The move, hailed as a "milestone" in EU-Turkish relations, comes six weeks after Ankara resumed talks to join the bloc, ending a 40-month freeze.
By Enis Senerdem for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 19/12/13
Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (right) and EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom exchange documents during the Turkey-EU readmission agreement signing ceremony in Ankara on Monday (December 16th). [AFP]
Turkey signed a long-awaited deal with the European Union on Monday (December 16th) to readmit people who enter the bloc illegally from its territory in exchange for talks on visa-free travel for its citizens.
However, some experts said implementation of the readmission agreement will be challenging for Turkey.
"Physical conditions are not too bright for readmission. We accepted around 600,000 Syrian immigrants and we all know the results," Emre Gonen, international relations professor at Bilgi University, told SETimes.
According to Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) figures, about 201,000 Syrian refugees are residing in sheltering camps in 10 different cities. The rest of them are living in city centres and receive financial aid from the state.
There are other issues apart from the readmission agreement. Gonen said the real challenge will be implementing closer ties with EU members Greece and Bulgaria over border controls.
"Turkey does not have the financial capability or political will to establish such close co-operation with the EU," Gonen said.
Despite the scepticism, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is confident about Turkey's ability to handle migrants deported from the EU.
"The financial burden will be shared by Turkey and the EU. In the worst-case scenario, Turkey may have to take back several thousand illegal immigrants but 76 million Turkish citizens will be able to go anywhere in Europe," Davutoglu told reporters.
In the past, the readmission agreement had been the most important drawback for initiating visa liberalisation talks. The changed stance of Turkey led both Ankara and Brussels to a more concrete roadmap.
"The latest initiative is a classic example of a tit-for-tat deal. Therefore, it will only bring results if both EU and Turkey take simultaneous actions and concrete steps in the areas they agreed to," Lenka Petkova, project officer at Global Political Trends Centre, an Istanbul-based think tank, told SETimes.
There are also experts who say the agreement delays implementation of what they see as Turkish citizens' rights.
"Turkish citizens already have the right to visit Europe without visa restrictions. However, the EU is preventing Turkish citizens to use their rights. The Turkish government should pursue legal action to reclaim this right," Haluk Gumrukcu, professor of law and founder of Visa Free Europe Working Group at Akdeniz University, told SETimes.
According to Gumrukcu, the visa-free travel right derives from the Ankara Agreement signed in 1963 between Turkey and the EU, and he said implementing visa restrictions after 1970 is a clear violation of the terms of this agreement.
Still, initiating talks for visa liberalisation is seen as a positive step forward for Turkey's EU membership prospects.
"We see that the confidence in the EU negotiations is dropping year by year. Visa liberalisation can turn this negative sentiment around and bring in public support for further reforms," Nilgun Arisan Eralp, EU expert at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), an Ankara-based think tank, told SETimes.
Wolfgang Vogel, director of European Studies at Hamburg University, said Turkey might enjoy far more than free travelling if the talks are completed successfully.
"Turkey would participate fully in the common market, which extends beyond the customs union presently existing, especially regarding services, agrarian products and free movement of capital. Furthermore, free movement is not just freedom to travel but also freedom to take up employment. The latter only comes with EU membership. Turkey would profit from the agrarian development funds and would have a say in the making of EU laws to which it now is indirectly subjected regarding exported products," Vogel told SETimes.
How do you think visa-free travel in Europe will benefit Turkey's citizens and Europe? Please share your thoughts.