Tuesday

2nd Jun 2020

Some Balkan countries may get EU visa-free travel within months

The citizens of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro could be allowed visa-free travel to the European Union as early as the end of this year, EU foreign ministers said on Monday (15 June).

"The [EU foreign] ministers encouraged the European Commission to start dismantling the visa requirement for all countries that have met all benchmarks with a view of achieving a visa-free regime with them ideally by the end of this year," Czech foreign minister Jan Kohout, whose country presides over the EU until the end of this month, said at a press conference after the ministers' meeting in Luxembourg.

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EU candidate Macedonia is said to be the most advanced and to have met all necessary conditions - including "document security, public order and security, external relations and fundamental rights" - for its citizens to be allowed to travel visa-free into the European Union.

Montenegro and Serbia have met the majority of the conditions and are expected to make further progress on the remaining ones by the end of the year.

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn welcomed the foreign ministers' decision.

"Today's council meeting brings some good news for the people of the western Balkans… The commission has for long been committed to visa-free travel for the peoples of the western Balkans. We know how important it is for them, especially for the younger generations, to be able to travel and study freely in the EU," he said.

"That's why the commission will press on with the aim to present a proposal for visa-free travel to the council [the member states] still before the summer break," he added.

After the commission makes its proposals, the European Parliament is to be consulted and then EU member states are expected to give a final green light to visa liberalisation for the most advanced countries before the end of the year.

Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina have made the least progress in this area and their citizens are not expected to get visa-free travel at this stage.

For its part, Kosovo which last year proclaimed its independence from Serbia, is not yet included in the visa liberalisation dialogue.

Zero result on Slovenia – Croatia

Meanwhile a question mark is still hanging over Croatia's EU membership bid due to a long-lasting border dispute with Slovenia.

Meetings on Monday between the two countries' foreign ministers and Mr Rehn, as well as between Mr Rehn and the foreign or EU ministers of France, the Czech Republic and Sweden – the so-called presidential trio – again failed to bring any progress in the two neighbouring countries' row.

"Today we didn't find a solution, and we agreed to continue with our discussions," Croatian foreign minister Gordan Jandrokovic said after the talks.

His Slovenian counterpart Samuel Zbogar said that Mr Rehn's updated proposal included "some Slovenian suggestions" and that it now needed to be discussed with Slovenia's government and parliament.

"Now both ministers are going to consult further back home and we will continue our work in the course of this week, most likely on Wednesday ahead of the European Council," commissioner Rehn told journalists.

"Our productivity could be higher but at least we are doing a very thorough work with my colleagues," he added.

Mr Kohout said he remained optimistic about an eventually positive outcome, but admitted it was increasingly likely that Croatia would neither open nor close a chapter before the end of the Czech EU presidency at the end of this month.

"Due to circumstances which were not in the hands of the presidency… I cannot exclude that it will be at the end zero [chapters]," the Czech foreign minister said.

"But still we have two weeks time, we are making… any possible effort and so… I am still optimistic on that," he added.

Croatia aims to end its EU accession negotiations by the end of this year and become a full EU member by 2011, a timetable that is now under increasing pressure.

Macedonia a step closer to visa-free travel to EU

The European Commission on Monday presented EU member states with its assessment of how well western Balkan countries have been fulfilling the conditions for visa-free travel to the bloc, with Macedonia given the best mark, and Albania and Bosnia the worst.

Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro offered EU visa-free travel

The citizens of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro should be allowed to travel visa-free to the EU's borderless Schengen area next year, the European Commission proposed on Wednesday. It rejected criticism of its decision to leave Bosnia and Albania out of the proposal.

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