November 25, 2008
In your recent interview, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said that regarding Turkey’s accession to the European Union, the bloc “may consider transitional periods and even permanent derogations” with respect to the free movement of Turkish workers.
This statement has been heavily referred to by several agents of the domestic press in Turkey. As a matter of fact, a similar statement was also present in the official decision opening membership negotiations with Turkey. Subsequent clarifications emphasised its intention to hush strong opposition to Turkey’s accession and eliminate public doubt over the matter.
At this point, however, it should be noted that the concept of “permanent derogations” that Rehn spelled out in his speech is quite problematic in terms of the pacta sund servanda principle, as well as other fundamental principles of the Union.
Indeed, free movement of people is one of the four fundamental freedoms that constitute of the EU. Production factors in the bloc, which have culminated with strong economic integration as well as economic and fiscal unity, must include full-scale freedom of movement. Integration that allows free movement of goods and capital on the one hand but excludes people on the other will remain incomplete and unjust.
Moreover, the concept of a “permanent derogation” on one of the four fundamental freedoms is so absurd that, even if such a regulation were to be included in the Accession Agreement, questions on its validity may be subjected to a reading by the European Court of Justice.
Transitional periods to postpone the implementation of the free movement may be envisaged for Turkey, as was the case with previous enlargements. In fact, relatively long transitional periods were implemented for Portugal and Spain in 1986 as well as for countries that received membership status recently in 2004 and 2007.
Nevertheless, contrary to expectations, free movement was allowed even before the transitional period came to an end (in the Spanish case). Likewise, derogations were ended before the anticipated deadline for many new member states following the 2004 enlargement.
An eight-year transition period may be envisaged, starting from the date of full membership. Perhaps this period may also be extended for a little more. However, permanent derogations are only possible for scenarios other than membership. In this respect, Rehn’s remarks are considered to be a direct result of efforts to alleviate EU public opinion and to eliminate ongoing fears and concerns about free movement and the labour market.
A general overview of the interview reveals Olli Rehn’s positive approach to Turkey’s accession to the EU, which taken together with his indication of the unfairness of prejudiced attitudes towards Turkey’s accession is quite encouraging for the welfare of negotiations towards full membership.
Consequently, there is no need to overstate such statements, and these remarks should be considered part of the effort to overcome concerns about Turkish accession to the Union. In the meantime, Turkey should reject any mention of permanent derogations in official negotiations.
Meanwhile, Turkey is in a customs union with the EU, and is in negotiations to become a full member of the Union. Nevertheless, Turkish businesspeople involved in trading activities with the bloc are deprived of the right to free movement in EU countries, and therefore they experience serious difficulties in participating in fairs and in establishing business contacts in the Union.
In light of these considerations, visa procedures for certain people, such as businessmen, students and academics, should be brought in line with article 41 of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement, which states that no additional limitations can be brought to free circulation of services between the signatories.Letters to the EurActiv editor