Wed. Jun 19th, 2024

Brussels, 5 December 2022

Today, the Commission presents its 5th report on the monitoring of the EU visa-free regime with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. All countries concerned continue to meet the visa liberalisation requirements and made progress in addressing last year’s recommendations. The report focuses on actions taken to address the recommendations made by the Commission in the Fourth Report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism of last year to ensure continuous fulfilment of the visa liberalisation requirements. The report also highlights areas where further efforts are needed from each country.

Migration

All countries assessed continued to take measures to address irregular migration. However, further effort is needed to address ongoing concerns:

  • Alignment with the EU’s visa policy: this is crucial for the good functioning of the visa-free regime with the EU. The lack of alignment with the EU’s visa policy may lead to increasing irregular arrivals and should be addressed as a matter of priority in all Western Balkan partners.
  • Frontex status agreements:  status agreements have been concluded with Albania, Serbia, and Montenegro and North Macedonia. These will allow for the deployment of Frontex’s standing corps at all borders of these partner countries. The agreements with Bosnia and Herzegovina should be swiftly finalised and implemented.
  • Anti-smuggling operational plans: A regional Anti-Smuggling Operational Partnership was launched at the EU Western Balkans Ministerial on JHA on 3 November. This will strengthen law enforcement and judicial cooperation against smuggling networks and increase the border management capacity of Western Balkans.
Security

All countries assessed continue to take measures to prevent and fight organised crime. However, further efforts are needed to address internal security concerns:

  • High-level corruption: efforts to combat corruption are still hampered by the limited capacity and legal status of anti-corruption agencies, as well as the small number of trials and convictions.
  • Fight against organised crime: all countries should step up the fight against transnational organised crime networks in collaboration with Europol and by increasing their participation in EMPACT activities.
  • Golden passports: countries granting citizenship in exchange for investment should abolish or refrain from implementing such schemes. Golden passports raise inherent security, money-laundering, tax evasion and corruption risks for the EU.
Next steps

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 bilateral and regional dialogues between the EU and visa-free countries. The monitoring of aspects related to the visa liberalisation benchmarks will also continue being included in the Commission’s annual enlargement package and, where relevant, EU accession negotiations. The Commission will continue to report to the European Parliament and the Council at least once a year.

Background

The EU currently has a visa-free regime in place with 61 countries. Under this visa-free regime, non-EU citizens with a biometric passport can enter the Schengen area for 90 days, within 180 days, without a visa. Visa-exempt travellers visiting the Schengen area will be subject to the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) as from the end of 2023.

Citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia can travel to the EU without a visa since December 2009. For citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, this 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.

Data from this report relates to the 2021 calendar year, with updates for 2022 where relevant. Concerning Ukraine, as this report’s scope covers up until the end of 2021, it mainly reflects the situation before the start of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

For More Information

Fifth Report Under the Visa Suspension Mechanism

Staff Working Document

Question and Answers

Strengthened Visa Suspension Mechanism

Fourth Visa Suspension Mechanism Report

Third Visa Suspension Mechanism Report

Second Visa Suspension Mechanism Report

First Visa Suspension Mechanism Report

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Source – EU Commission


Q&A: Fifth report on the EU visa-free regime with Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries

Brussels, 5 December 2022

What is the Commission presenting today?

Today, the Commission reports on results of its monitoring of the EU visa-free regime with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia as well as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. For the countries that obtained visa exemptions less than 7 years ago (Georgia and Ukraine), the report also provides a more detailed assessment of other actions taken to ensure the continuous fulfilment of the benchmarks.

What is the general assessment?

The Commission considers that all countries concerned have taken action to address the recommendations made in the previous report and continue to fulfil the visa liberalisation requirements. However, all 8 countries need to continue to take further measures to address different concerns related to the fight against organised crime, financial fraud and money laundering, as well as addressing high-level corruption and irregular migration. To ensure a well-managed migration and security environment, and to prevent irregular migration flows to the EU, the assessed countries must ensure further alignment with the EU’s visa policy. Countries concerned should also take action to effectively phase out investor citizenship schemes or refrain from systematically granting citizenship by investment.

It is imperative that the reform process undertaken during the visa liberalisation negotiations is sustained and that the countries do not backtrack on their achievements.

What is a visa liberalisation requirement (benchmark)?

While 61 countries around the world benefit from visa-free travel to the EU, in some cases, visa free access can be decided following bilateral negotiations, called ‘visa liberalisation dialogues’. They are based on the progress made by the countries concerned in implementing major reforms in areas such as strengthening the rule of law, combatting organised crime, corruption and migration management and improving administrative capacity in border control and security of documents.

Visa liberalisation dialogues were successfully conducted between the EU and the 8 countries covered by today’s report. On this basis, the EU granted visa-free travel to nationals of these countries; for Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia in December 2009, for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end 2010, for Moldova in April 2014, for Georgia in March 2017 and for Ukraine in June 2017.

These dialogues were built upon ‘Visa Liberalisation Roadmaps’ for the Western Balkan countries and ‘Visa Liberalisation Action Plans’ for the Eastern Partnership countries.

During the visa liberalisation dialogues, the Commission closely monitored the implementation of the Roadmaps and Action Plans through regular progress reports. These progress reports were then transmitted to the European Parliament and the Council and are publicly accessible (see here for the Western Balkan countries and here for Eastern Partnership countries).

Why does the report only assess 8 countries out of all those which have visa-free regimes with the EU?

The report only focuses on countries that have successfully completed a visa liberalisation dialogue: Albania; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Montenegro; North Macedonia; Serbia; Georgia; Moldova and Ukraine.

Under the EU rules, the Commission is responsible for reporting to the European Parliament and the Council on the continuous fulfilment of visa liberalisation requirements by non-EU countries which have successfully concluded a visa liberalisation dialogue less than seven years ago.

Georgia and Ukraine have been visa-exempt for less than seven years, therefore the Commission is required to report on the continuous fulfilment of the benchmarks. As regards Moldova and the visa-free countries in the Western Balkans, which are visa exempt since more than 7 years, the report focuses on the follow-up to the specific recommendations the Commission made in the fourth report adopted in August 2021, and assesses the actions taken to address them. An assessment of aspects related to the visa liberalisation benchmarks for the Western Balkans is included in the European Commission’s annual Enlargement Package.

What is the Commission doing to help partner countries to address organised crime and irregular migration?

The Commission together with EU agencies and Member States are stepping up operational cooperation to address both organised crime and irregular migration with the countries assessed in the report.

On 5 December the Commission presented an EU Action Plan on the Western Balkans. It aims to strengthen the cooperation on migration and border management with partners in Western Balkans in light of their unique status with EU accession perspective and their continued efforts to align with EU rules.

Partner countries are encouraged to actively participate in all relevant EU Policy Cycle/EMPACToperational action plans, undertaken to fight serious and organised crime. The EU-Western Balkans Joint Action Plan on Counter-Terrorism is an important roadmap and evidence of our strengthened cooperation to address key priority actions in the area of security, including the prevention of all forms of radicalisation and violent extremism, and challenges posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters and their families.

The EU has signed a number of Status Agreements with Western Balkan countries on border management cooperation. The agreements allow the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to carry out deployments and joint operations on the territory of neighbouring non-EU countries. A number of agreements have been successfully implemented and the remaining agreements should be swiftly finalised.

Cooperation between Frontex and partner countries takes place though different level working arrangements, and includes cooperation on return operations as well as information exchange, sharing best practices and conducting joint risk analyses.

The Commission is also providing significant financial support to partner countries to support capacity building and the law enforcement reforms.

What is the Commission doing to ensure the partner countries’ alignment with the EU’s visa policy?

Visa policy alignment is a pre-condition to ensure a continuous fulfilment of the visa liberalisation benchmarks as well as to ensure a well-managed migration and security environment.

All countries covered in the report are required to take further actions to align their visa policies with the EU’s. The Commission has consistently recommended, both in the visa suspension mechanism reports and in the annual enlargement packages, that the countries should ensure further alignment of their respective visa policies with the EU lists of visa-required third countries, in particular as regards those third countries which present irregular migration or security risks for the EU.

What are the next steps?

The report sets out actions to be taken by the partner countries to ensure the sustainability of reforms. Close monitoring is an ongoing process, including through senior officials meetings as well as the regular Justice, Freedom and Security subcommittee meetings and dialogues between the EU and visa-free countries, the regular enlargement reports, including, where relevant, EU accession negotiations.

What is the revised visa suspension mechanism?

The visa suspension mechanism was first introduced as part of the EU’s visa policy in 2013. The mechanism gives a possibility to temporarily suspend the visa exemption for a non-EU country, for a short period of time, in case of a substantial increase in irregular migration from the partner countries.

The European Parliament and the Council adopted a revised mechanism which entered into force in 2017. Under the revised mechanism, the Commission can trigger the suspension mechanism, whereas previously only Member States could do so. In addition, the revised mechanism introduced an obligation for the Commission to:

  • monitor the continuous fulfilment of the visa liberalisation requirementswhich were used to assess to grant visa free travel to a non-EU country as a result of a successful conclusion of a visa liberalisation dialogue;
  • report regularly to the European Parliament and to the Council, at least once a year, for a period of seven years after the date of entry into force of visa liberalisation for that non-EU country.

The new measures allow the European Union to react quicker and in a more flexible manner when faced with a sudden increase in irregular migration or in internal security risks relating to the nationals of a particular non-EU country.

When can the suspension mechanism be triggered?

The suspension mechanism can be triggered in the following circumstances:

  • a substantial increase (more than 50%) in the number people arriving  irregularly  from visa-free countries, including people found to be staying irregularly, and persons refused entry at the border;
  • a substantial increase (more than 50%) in the number of asylum applications with from countries low recognition rate (around 3-4%);
  • a decline in cooperation on readmission;
  • an increased risk to the security of Member States.

The Commission can also trigger the mechanism in case certain requirements are no longer met as regards the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation benchmarks by non-EU countries that have gone through a visa liberalisation dialogue.

For More Information

Press release: Visa liberalisation: Commission reports on continued fulfilment of requirements by Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries

Fifth Report Under the Visa Suspension Mechanism

Staff Working Document

 

 

 

 

Source – EU Commission

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