The Greek government will request that the European Commission re-examine its decision to prohibit visa clearance at Eastern Aegean island ports through a pilot program that allows non-European Union citizens from Turkish ports to visit a number of Greek islands without a visa from a Greek consulate.
“The continuation of the visa facilitation program for Turkish citizens has not yet closed for the Greek government. At the same time, competent bodies in the European Union appear to be willing to reconsider the decision,” said Syriza MP representing Lesvos, Giorgos Pallis.
Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos has already discussed the issue with European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans requesting a renewal of the pilot visa program which expired on October 30.
The scheme, an exception to the Schengen procedure, was launched in 2012 and had received the approval of the European Commission in efforts to boost island economies due to the crisis and strengthen Greek tourism by facilitating travel for thousands of Turkish travelers, who instead of applying for a visa — a time-consuming procedure — at the Greek consulates received a short-term visa at the island ports for a fee.
Meanwhile, tourism bodies and municipal authorities are up in arms over the EC’s decision.
“It appears that the European Commission has decided to do away with the Eastern Aegean islands, especially Lesvos… it has been decided that the islands of the Eastern Aegean and Lesvos can only receive migrants and refugees but not tourists”, the Chamber of Lesvos, the Lesvos Hoteliers Association and the Lesvos Union of Tourism, Travel and Shipping Agents said in a joint statement on Wednesday, adding that “the Europeans and the government have decided to turn the islands of the Eastern Aegean starting with Lesvos into a receiving terminal for refugees and immigrants”.
In response to the Commission’s decision, the foreign ministry has boosted staff at Greek Consular offices in Turkey as well as worked towards improving the visa procedure in order to facilitate travel for Turkish travelers to Greece.