The critical court case, which might have paved the way for a three-month visa exemption for Turkish citizens visiting EU countries, was taken up by the European Court of Justice (ECOJ) last year. The case began in 2007 when Germany denied a visitor’s visa to Leyla Ecem Demirkan, who, then 14 years old, wanted to go to Germany to visit her hospitalized stepfather, Jörg Huber.
Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s EU minister, has criticized the verdict, which he described as unjust. “It looks as if political considerations more than legal ones were influential in the verdict. EU legislation has been made the victim of prejudices and political calculations,” Bağış said in a written statement on Tuesday. The İstanbul-based Economic Development Foundation (IKV) said in a press release the same day that it is greatly frustrated by the court’s verdict.
Following the verdict, support in Turkey for the country’s EU membership bid will hit a new low, fears Ayhan Kaya, director of the European Institute at İstanbul Bilgi University. “The verdict will play into the hands of those who are against Turkey’s membership in the EU,” he has told Today’s Zaman.
The stepfather first took the case to court in Germany, and then Demirkan brought it to the ECOJ, which has ruled in Turkey’s favor in six previous visa cases. Rolf Gutmann, Demirkan’s attorney, argued that the first clause of Article 41 of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement concluded in Brussels in 1970 does not allow acquired rights to be stripped and drew attention to the fact that Turks traveled to Europe without needing a visa until 1971.
Cengiz Aktar, head of Bahçeşehir University’s European Union Affairs program, is not as pessimistic about the possible effects of the court’s verdict. “Support for EU membership in Turkey can’t be lower than at present,” he has told Today’s Zaman. According to the Transatlantic Trends 2013 public opinion survey recently released by the US’ German Marshall Fund, support for EU membership in Turkey is under 44 percent; it was as high as 73 percent back in 2004. According to Aktar, the verdict won’t negatively affect ongoing negotiations between Turkey and the EU on a visa facilitation deal.
However, the European court ruled on Tuesday that requiring Demirkan to have a visa has a legal basis. “The notion of ‘freedom to provide services’ in Article 41(1) of the Additional Protocol signed in Brussels on 23 November 1970 and concluded, approved and confirmed on behalf of the Community by Council Regulation (EEC) No 2760/72 of 19 December 1972 must be interpreted as not encompassing freedom for Turkish nationals who are the recipients of services to visit a Member State in order to obtain services,” the court said in its ruling.
Demirkan argued that her visit to Germany would necessarily entail the receipt of services — something that was deemed by previous EU legislation as falling under a visa exemption for the provision of services. Tuesday’s ruling sets a precedent for Turks traveling to the EU by excluding the receipt of services from this exemption.