News archive - Supporting people-to-people contacts – Visa issues

The Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the Communication from the Commission "Western Balkans: Enhancing the European perspective" also updates on the council conclusions and agreements as regards visa issues. A specific aspect are also the regulations as regards admission for purposes of scientific research.

The following visa aspects are discussed in the document

Council Conclusions

In its conclusions of 18/6/2007 the Council underlined that the visa facilitation and readmission agreements will promote people-to-people contacts between the EU and the Western Balkan countries and increase opportunities for travelling, especially for the younger generation. Recalling the Thessaloniki Agenda, the Council acknowledged the importance the people of the Western Balkans attach to the perspective of visa-free movement. In this respect, it welcomed the efforts of the Commission to take these issues forward in concrete terms.
In its conclusions of 10/12/2007 the Council invited the Commission to further explore possibilities to promote people-to-people contacts. Recalling its conclusions of 18.6.2007, the Council expressed its readiness to hold a discussion during the first half of 2008 on these issues, based on the Commission’s Communication, as well as on Member States’ contributions.
In its Conclusions of 28/1/2008, the Council welcomed the intention of the Commission to launch soon a visa dialogue with all the countries in the region and expressed its readiness to further discuss this issue, based on the Commission's forthcoming Communication on the Western Balkans, with a view to define detailed roadmaps setting clear benchmarks to be met by all the countries in the region in order to gradually advance towards visa liberalisation. This would enable the Council and the Commission to closely monitor progress in necessary reforms.

Visa facilitation and readmission agreements

Visa facilitation and readmission agreements were signed between the EU and Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia on 18/9/2007 and entered into force on 1/1/2008. The visa facilitation agreements will make it easier to issue short-term visas for citizens of the Western Balkan countries and introduce a reduced fee of €35 for visa applications. The agreements set time-limits for issuing a visa (normally 10 days). They simplify the requirements on documents to support visa applications for certain categories of persons and also clarify the criteria for issuing multi-entry visas valid for one or more years.
Each visa facilitation agreement provides for the establishment of a joint committee to monitor implementation. The committee will bring together the Commission and representatives of the authorities of the Western Balkan country concerned. The first meetings of the committees are due to be held during the first half of 2008. Their purpose is to take stock of the first months of implementation of the agreements.
The readmission agreements set out the reciprocal rules and procedures under which nationals of the contracting parties as well as (under certain conditions) third country nationals who illegally stay on the territory of one contracting party may be readmitted to the territory of the other contracting party. The agreements regulate also the issue of transit for readmission purposes through the territory of contracting parties.

Visa liberalisation dialogue

In line with the Council conclusions of 18/6/2007, the Commission’s 2007 strategy paper stated that it was now time gradually to move towards visa liberalisation with the Western Balkan countries by taking further concrete/practical steps.
To that end, the Commission started a visa liberalisation dialogue with Serbia in January and with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro in February 2008. The dialogue with Albania will start in early March and Bosnia and Herzegovina will follow. Within this framework detailed road-maps will be drawn up by the Commission in consultation with the Council. The Western Balkan countries will provide input in this context. The road-maps will outline conditions for lifting visa obligation and will cover four sets of issues: document security, illegal migration, including readmission, public order and security, as well as external relations. The road-maps will be tailor-made to allow each country to focus reform efforts and address the EU's requirements. The Commission's intention is to finalise the roadmaps as soon as possible after the launching of each dialogue, in order for the necessary reforms to start being implemented promptly.
The speed of movement towards visa liberalisation will depend on each country's progress in fulfilling the benchmarks. For the whole process, the countries' capacity to ensure correct and effective implementation of the visa facilitation and readmission agreements will also be taken into consideration. The Commission will provide financial and technical assistance to support implementation of the road-maps.
The Commission and the Council will closely monitor progress in the relevant reforms. Once the conditions for each country have been fulfilled, the Commission will propose to the Council the lifting of the respective visa obligation, by amending Council Regulation 539/2001 .

Improving visa-issuing procedures at local consulates

A Commission proposal for a Regulation establishing a Community Code on Visas was transmitted to the Council and the European Parliament in July 2006 . The Code will increase transparency and legal certainty in visa application procedures. It is now being discussed in the Council and Parliament.
Another Commission proposal for a Regulation provides for changes in visa application procedures that will allow Member States to simplify the reception and processing of visa applications.

Facilitation of entry for studies and pupil exchange

Council Directive 2004/114/EC. The deadline for transposition by Member States was 12.1.2007. To date, 18 Member States have notified full transposition.

Admission for purposes of scientific research

Council Directive 2005/71/EC. The deadline for transposition by Member States was 12.10.2007. By 26.2.2008, 13 Member States had fully complied with the Directive (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Romania) and another four had notified partial implementation (Bulgaria, France, Lithuania and Slovakia). The United Kingdom and Denmark are not bound by this Directive.

Two recommendations on admission and on issuing short-term visas for researchers have not yet had any significant impact on administrative procedures (Council Recommendation 2005/762/EC of 12.10.2005 and Recommendation 2005/761/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28.9.2005 (OJ L 289, 3.11.2005))

Local border traffic regime

The Regulation on a local border traffic regime was adopted on 20.12.2006 . It creates a framework for conclusion of bilateral agreements between bordering Member States and the Western Balkan countries.
Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary have expressed willingness to conclude bilateral local border traffic agreements with Serbia. Bulgaria has expressed a similar willingness to conclude an agreement with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Political declarations to that effect were annexed to the relevant visa facilitation agreements.
An agreement between Serbia and Bulgaria on border control and procedures in railway transport, signed on 15.4.2005, entered into force in 2006.

Source: Commission document SEC(2008) 288. Meeting doc 47/08

Entry created by Elke Dall on March 11, 2008
Modified on March 11, 2008