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Visa-free EU travel could be on the horizon for Turkey after next month’s election

Visa-free EU travel could be on the horizon for Turkey after next month’s election

Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has promised visa-free travel in the Schengen Area if he comes to power on 14 May.

Turkey’s upcoming election will decide whether to keep long-time President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has led the country for two decades.

Kılıçdaroğlu is the unity leader for six opposition parties including secularists, nationalists, conservatives and liberals.

In a recent TV interview, Kılıçdaroğlu pledged to “solve visa problems”, stating that if his Republican People’s Party (CHP) wins, “within three months, our citizens will be able to enter Europe without a visa.”

Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP coalition campaign is built on on promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law after years of increasingly centralised power under Erdoğan.

Can Turkish citizens travel to Europe?

At the moment, Turkey is not a member of the EU or the Schengen area, a group of 23 EU member states and four non-EU countries.

This means that anyone travelling on a Turkish passport has to apply for a Schengen Visa to enter the bloc or a country-specific tourist visa.

If Kılıçdaroğlu’s plans come to fruition, visa-free access would grant Turkish citizens holding a biometric passport permission to enter the Schengen area for 90 days within any 180-day period without a visa.

Why is Turkey not a member of the Schengen Area?

Turkey was officially recognised as a candidate country for EU membership in 1999. However, progress has been slow.

In 2016, talks were accelerated by a transactional ‘refugee deal’, which focused on stemming the flow of migrants into Europe from Turkish territory in return for visa liberalisation.

However, plans stalled as the EU accused Turkey of human rights violations and legal shortcomings.

Of the 72 benchmarks required to gain visa-free access to the EU, Turkey has so far only met 67.

However, this deal could be suspended or revoked in case of a “sudden or substantial increase of irregular migration” from Turkey, according to the European Commission.

AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People's Party, arrives for a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, 6 March 2023. - AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

How will Kılıçdaroğlu secure Schengen zone access for Turkey?

Kılıçdaroğlu says his party aims to secure visa-free access by fulfilling the remaining five benchmarks.

These require Turkey to align certain legislation with EU standards, including personal data protection and terrorism. These standards also aim to prevent corruption, secure cooperation with EU states on criminal matters, and conclude a cooperation agreement with Europol.

More generally, a victory for Kılıçdaroğlu might signal the start of a new era of democratisation in Turkey, giving the country a chance to reset relations with the EU.

Is Kılıçdaroğlu likely to win the election?

Election predictions point to a neck-and-neck race between Erdoğan’s AKP and Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP.

It is thought the election will likely go to a runoff between the two candidates.