Wednesday

30th Nov 2022

Balkan countries sign visa deal with EU

  • Young people would benefit most from travel facilitation (Photo: European Commission)

Five Balkan countries on Tuesday signed (18 September) visa agreements with the EU making it easier for their citizens to enter the bloc in what is hoped to be the first step towards a completely "visa free" regime.

Citizens from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will have to pay a visa fee of €35 – instead of €60, to enter the EU once these agreements are implemented – something which is planned to happen by 1 January 2008.

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On top of that, for some categories of people such as students, businessmen or journalists, the necessary documents required for getting a visa will be simplified.

The €35-fee remains an important sum, however, in countries where the average salary varies from less than €200 a month in Albania to around €350 in Serbia.

The countries are hoping to get rid of visas altogether in the future.

"It is necessary to completely cancel the visa regime as soon as possible", Serbian interior minister Dragan Jocic said at a press conference following the signing of the agreement.

However, the commission was non-committal on this aim.

"I will open a dialogue on complete visa liberalisation", said EU justice commission Franco Frattini but added, "it will depend on you [Balkan countries]".

He said he expected "tangible progress" before there is proper discussion on a visa-free system.

Croatia was the first – and so far the only country of the Western Balkans - to benefit from such a visa free regime. Its citizens can enter the EU freely for a period of up to 90 days.

Achieving a \"basic democratic\" value

Currently, all other countries from the region need a visa to enter the 27-member bloc prompting warnings from some observers about a potential "ghettoisation" of the Balkans.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's interior minister Tarik Sadovic said agreeing on visa facilitation is a step towards the realisation of "one of the basic democratic values – freedom of movement".

"The fact that one has the freedom of movement and others not is creating frustration. Meeting different people and nations and their cultures and civilizations contributes to peace and prosperity", he added.

Parallel to visa facilitation, readmission agreements with the Balkan countries were signed, aimed at boosting the fight against illegal immigration. They oblige the parties to take back citizens from their respective countries illegally residing on the other's territory.

Both the visa and the readmission agreements were also welcomed by the Balkan ministers as part of an overall process of rapprochement with the EU, with all countries eventually hoping to become members of the Union.

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