Turkey’s EU affairs minister Thursday criticized a European Commission decision to halt a program easing visa procedures for Turkish citizens traveling to Greek islands, calling it a sign that Europe is becoming more inward-looking.
Under the program, intended to boost tourism revenues, Turkish tourists making short visits to certain Aegean Greek islands could be issued a visa at the port, without having to apply through an embassy or consulate.
"When you look at the whole picture, denying [easy] entry to Turks means that Europe is becoming more introverted," Celik told news channel A Haber when asked about the commission halting the program.
Celik said Turkish tourists are a vital contributor to the Greek economy, which has faced double-digit unemployment and a years-long debt crisis.
The decision also comes amid tensions between the two countries following Greece’s refusal to extradite eight Turkish ex-soldiers linked to the July 2016 defeated coup, said the EU minister.
The defeated July 15 coup, blamed by Turkey on the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), left 248 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
The commission's decision to end the quick visa program, which began in 2012, drew fire from tourism bodies and municipal authorities in the northern Aegean, according to local media reports.
In a joint press release, the island of Lesbos’ Chamber of Commerce, Union of Tourism, Travel and Shipping Agents, and Hoteliers Association called the decision a “punishment” from the European Commission, various news websites said.
"In other words, some people decided that the islands of the eastern Aegean and Lesbos can only receive migrants and refugees but not tourists. Why are the islands treated like this after carrying the burden of the refugee problem with humanity?” the release reportedly said, referring to the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants that have reached Greece’s Aegean islands since 2015.
They also called on Athens to take steps to reinstate the program.
News of the commission’s decision came to them in a letter from Greek Alternate Foreign Minister George Katrougalos, according to media reports.
"Despite strenuous efforts and continuous interventions of the Foreign Ministry, both towards the European Commission and the European Commission Vice-President [Frans] Timmermans, Migration Commissioner [Dimitris] Avramopoulos, and Director General of the Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs [Matthias] Ruete, it was not possible to extend the pilot visa facilitation program for the islands of the northern and southern Aegean after Oct. 30, 2016," Katrougalos reportedly said.
Reporting by Meltem Bulur; Writing by Sorwar AlamAnadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.