Visa liberalisation: Commission reports on the continued fulfilment of requirements by the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries
Today, the Commission is reporting on the assessment of the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation requirements by Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The report concluded that the countries concerned continue to meet the visa liberalisation requirements, and that visa-free movement continues to bring positive economic, social and cultural benefits to EU Member States and partner countries. The report focuses in detail on specific areas of security and migration where further action is needed.
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas said: “In an increasingly mobile world, the EU strives for fair and orderly mobility and in this respect visa-free travel with our Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership remains a major achievement. Visa-free travel, however, comes with responsibilities and continuous efforts are needed to curb irregular migration and fight corruption and organised crime. We count on our partners to sustain achievements in these fields to ensure we can maintain visa-free travel in our common interest.”
Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said: "Visa liberalisation fosters people-to-people contacts and strengthens the ties between the EU and the citizens of Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries. It is a powerful tool to advance transformative reforms, including in the area of justice and security. Over the years, we have seen significant progress by the visa-free partners that reinforces our bonds. Continuous efforts are needed to preserve these achievements.”
Migration, asylum and border management
All countries assessed continue to take measures to address irregular migration and border protection challenges. Coordination between border authorities and cooperation on readmission and return with all Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries remains positive. The overwhelming majority of citizens from the visa-free countries are bona fide travellers with legitimate grounds to travel to the EU. However, further efforts are needed to address ongoing concerns, including through targeted information campaigns on the rights and obligations of visa-free travel:
- While an overall decrease in the number of unfounded asylum applications was observed, total numbers remain a source of concern, in particular in the cases of Albania and Georgia. Irregular migration of nationals from a number of countries assessed has increased.
- The capacity to accommodate both asylum seekers and persons subject to a return procedure is insufficient in some Western Balkan countries, notably Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- The successful implementation of the European Border and Coast Guard (Frontex) Status Agreements between the Western Balkans countries and the EU will help strengthen border cooperation and prevent unauthorised entries in full respect of fundamental rights. The remaining agreements should be swiftly finalised.
- All visa-free countries assessed in this report should make further efforts to ensure full alignment with the EU's visa policy.
Public order and security
All countries continued to take measures to prevent and fight against organised crime, including through operational cooperation with Member States' law enforcement authorities. The bilateral arrangements to implement the EU-Western Balkans Joint Action Plan on Counter-Terrorism are an important milestone in addressing key priority areas, including the prevention of all forms of radicalisation and violent extremism, and challenges posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters and their families.
However, further efforts are needed to address security concerns due to crime-related challenges:
- Organised crime groups from the majority of reported countries continue to be active in trafficking of illicit firearms and various illicit commodities (in particular drugs and tobacco).
- All partner countries are expected to maintain and step up proactive operational cooperation with the EU Agencies and are encouraged to strengthen cross-border law enforcement cooperation with EU Member States.
- High-level corruption remains an issue in all countries covered by this report. Moldova and Ukraine have notably suffered from high profile banking frauds, with little progress in the prosecution of those involved and in the recovery of the stolen assets.In Moldova, important actions have been undertaken, but these efforts need to be fully implemented and sustained. In Ukraine, it is important to safeguard and further strengthen the independence of anti-corruption institutions, including by guaranteeing non-political and merit-based appointment procedures for leadership positions. EU support will continue to be linked to concrete progress in the reform agenda and in particular in the fields of anti-corruption and justice.
The Commission will continue monitoring the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation requirements through senior officials meetings as well as through the regular Justice, Freedom and Security subcommittee meetings and dialogues between the EU and visa-free countries. For the Western Balkans, this monitoring will also take place through regular enlargement reports and, where relevant, EU accession negotiations. The Commission will continue to report to the European Parliament and the Council at least once a year.
Today's report follows up on the Commission's obligation under the Strengthened Visa Suspension Mechanism, adopted in March 2017, to monitor the continuous fulfilment of visa liberalisation requirements by third countries and to report to the European Parliament and the Council at least once a year. Today's report is the third under the Visa Suspension Mechanism, following the First Visa Suspension Mechanism Report of December 2017 and Second Visa Suspension Mechanism Report issued in December 2018.
Data from this report relates to the 2019 calendar year and first half of 2020.
Overall, the visa-free travel scheme has fulfilled its purpose: it has strengthened people-to-people contact between the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries and the EU, including with diaspora communities in the Member States, enhanced business opportunities and cultural exchanges, and enabled the visa-free countries' citizens to get to know the EU better.
The assessment of the visa liberalisation benchmarks applies to countries which have successfully concluded visa liberalisation dialogues according to relevant action plans and roadmaps, i.e. some Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries. The report focuses on the areas where further work is necessary to achieve sustainable progress.
Visa-free travel for citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia has been in place since December 2009. For citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, visa-free travel is possible since the end of 2010. For Moldova visa-free travel entered into force in April 2014, for Georgia in March 2017 and for Ukraine in June 2017.
For More Information
MEMO: Report on the continued fulfilment of visa-free requirements