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EU Visas and the Western Balkans

Europe Report N°168
29 November 2005

To access the executive summary and recommendations of this Report in French, please click here.


The EU’s present visa regime with the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro including Kosovo) is fostering resentment, inhibiting progress on trade, business, education and more open civil societies, and as a result contributing negatively to regional stability. Full visa liberalisation for all will probably have to wait until the Balkan states are much closer to EU membership. But selective liberalisation for certain identified groups, and visa facilitation for all applicants – involving a simplified, speedier, less painful process – would go a long way toward showing governments and citizens alike that reforms do pay off.

Immigration in general is a serious concern within the EU, as demonstrated by the widespread growth in support for far right and xenophobic political parties. The German visas scandal which broke early in 2005 and the riots in French cities in recent weeks have not made things easier. But the EU committed itself to a more liberal visa regime for the Western Balkan countries at the Thessaloniki summit in 2003, and it is not implementing that commitment, even though it has started negotiations on visa facilitation with Russia, Ukraine and China. This sends an unfortunate message about its priorities. Internal security dominates thinking to the detriment of practical policy, with future member states’ citizens being marginalised by inflexible visa restrictions, in the short term compromising their freedom to travel and in the longer term exacerbating regional insecurity.

The present visa barriers are a source of deep resentment to honest travellers, undermine the credibility of the states of the region (as their citizens seek passports – legally or not – from more favoured jurisdictions), and function less as an obstacle than an opportunity for organised crime and corruption in the EU and the region. The present system restricts mainly those who should be allowed to benefit from the EU’s proximity, with the majority being made to pay for a criminal minority. The efforts of the governments in the region to reform are still on shaky ground because their citizens have seen few tangible rewards. It is time to offer some.


To the European Commission:

1.  Put negotiating mandates to the Council of Ministers on visa liberalisation and facilitation for Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia-Montenegro.

2.  Open negotiations in March 2006 at the high-level EU-Western Balkans event on the margins of the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Salzburg.

3.  Set out a road map for each country so that it has a clear picture of the steps it needs to take to get an improved visa regime from the EU.

4.  Revise the common consular instructions to encourage a simplified visa process.

To EU Member States:

5.  Begin negotiations with Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia-Montenegro on a selective Schengen visa liberalisation regime for academics (researchers, university professors and students), the business and trade community (including haulage workers such as truck drivers), civil society, media, and officials, the elements of which should include:

(a)  a stronger presumption that the visa will be issued;

(b)  a simplified application process with fewer required supporting documents;

(c)  no visa fee;

(d)  no interview; and

(e)  significantly reduced processing time.

6.  Begin negotiations with the same countries on facilitating visa applications for all their citizens, including:

(a)  a simplified process with fewer required supporting documents; and

(b)  significantly reduced processing time.

7.  Discuss within appropriate working groups and with input from the Commission how existing rules can be used to improve procedures.

To the Governments of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia-Montenegro:

8.  Conclude readmission agreements with individual EU member states taking responsibility for all third-country nationals who arrive in the EU from their territory; pass legislation making it a criminal offence to violate EU member state immigration laws; impose sanctions on the facilitators of illegal immigration; and adopt other measures taken by Bulgaria in 2001 and Romania in 2002 to get off the EU visa black list.

9.  Cooperate within the Stability Pact to implement integrated border management to meet EU standards.

10. Continue with efforts regionally, nationally and across entity/state/republic borders, to fight organised crime, drugs, illegal immigration, trafficking, money laundering and terrorism.

Belgrade/Pristina/Sarajevo/Skopje/Brussels, 29 November 2005

This report has been prepared by Crisis Group as member: Conflict Prevention Partnership.

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