Tuesday, November 29, 2005

EU Visas and the Western Balkans

Brussels, 29 November 2005: EU visa policy towards the Western Balkans contributes to the ghettoisation of the region and undermines Balkan efforts for reform and stability.

EU Visas and the Western Balkans,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the current visa regime with regard to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro including Kosovo. It highlights the policy’s sclerotic deficiencies that jeopardise the objective of enhanced European integration and damage the countries’ European outlook and hopes of eventual EU candidate status.

“This is not about emigration, permanent residence or threats to EU jobs. This is about liberalising the limited-term visa regime, primarily for students, business people and tourists, and making the application process simpler, faster and less painful for all”, says Nicholas Whyte, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “The current system is breeding resentment by making the majority pay a high price for a criminal minority”.

At the June 2003 Thessaloniki Summit, the EU assured the peoples of the Western Balkans region that Brussels would not regard the map of the Union as complete until those countries had joined. The EU committed itself to a more liberal visa regime, with the warning however that any progress toward this end depended upon the implementation of major reforms in areas of law, crime, administration and border controls.

But the very real efforts of Western Balkan governments to reform are not paying off as expected, and their populations seem to be increasingly frustrated by the fact they have seen few tangible rewards for their labours. The EU has not moved on implementing the commitments it took in Thessaloniki.

The EU and its member states should refocus on how to help this region make its way towards further integration. In particular the European Commission should put negotiating mandates to the Council of Ministers on visa liberalisation and facilitation for the countries of the region and should set out a road map for each country so that they have a clear picture of the steps they need to take to get an improved visa regime from the EU. The EU Member states should begin negotiations with the relevant countries on a selective Schengen visa liberalisation regime for certain segments of the population and on facilitating visa applications for all their citizens.

The EU must not forget that the citizens of the former Yugoslavia enjoyed visa-free contact with Western Europe before the wars of the 1990s. It must also remember that the new post-Milosevic generation of young Balkan Europeans has sadly never set foot inside the Union.

“The new Balkans generation, responsible for taking the region out of narrow-minded nationalism and conflict towards a European future, is not being given the necessary tools”, says Neil Campbell, a Research Analyst at Crisis Group. “A visa policy that inevitably fosters resentment towards the EU is certainly no way to make progress – neither in the region, nor in Europe overall”.


illyrianboy said...

Finally ICG touched upon something that is often forgotten and ignored.

At the same time the visa regimes - another ignored isse - among Balkan countries are ridiculous and frustrating.

I would like to hear about the opinions of those who frequent this blog about the inter-Balkan visas.


Visit Prishtina said...

Three years ago I was invited to a conference in Croatia, but the closest place I could fly in was Graz, Austria.

So, I went to the Austrian embassy and got a Schengen visa for Austria.

My train to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, went through Maribor, Slovenia.

So, I went to the Slovenian embassy and got a transit (48 hour) visa for Slovenia.

Needless to say, I needed a Croatian visa, too.

That was before Slovenia joined the EU.

To summarise, four day trip, three visas, 5 passpost pages!

dave said...

I have experienced the idiocy and enormous beurocracy of these policies as well. I am an American living in Austria and I have several friends in Kosova who I would like to have visit me in Austria.

As if the high costs of airline tickets between Prishtina and Munich weren't bad enough, the process for a Kosovar to get a visa for Austria is like ratifying a 100 page treaty between ten nations and one person. And to add to the difficulties, it is EXPENSIVE with no guarantee of approval!

I think the author made a great point that people from SE europe used to enjoy visa-free travel to and from central europe before the wars in the 90s. Now that the wars are over and progress is being made in all of these countries, I think the EU needs to step up their own efforts towards improving their shamefully neglected neighborhood down south.

The EU needs to start reconsidering their visa policies and start acting on their own promises! (instead of blaming everyone EXCEPT themselves for not living up to their expectations!):
E.g. the US steel industry, environment policy and genetic produce
E.g. Kosovar standards that cannot even be met in countries such as Germany or France!
etc, etc, etc...

illyrianboy said...

Dude, it is good to know that there people out there who know what we are going through. I mean it is crazy. Something has to be done and fast.