Germany and France demand reintroduction of Balkan visas
By Benjamin Fox
Germany, France and four other EU countries want to reintroduce visa requirements for people from the Western Balkans, saying that the measure is needed to combat a spike in asylum claims from the region.
Ahead of next week's meeting of EU home affairs ministers, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands sent a letter to the European Commission asserting that thousands of people from the former Yugoslavia were delaying the system by claiming asylum with fake passports.
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Speaking to reporters on Monday (15 October), Michele Cercone, spokesperson for EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, said that the "worrying situation" was creating "serious problems for the functioning of the asylum system.
He added that while only a "small minority are abusing the system" this was "crippling" it.
For her part, Tanja Fajon, a Slovenia centre-left deputy who is the European Parliament's rapporteur on visa liberalisation, said that new rules were likely to be adopted when EU interior ministers get together on 25 October.
The citizens of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have the right to travel to the Schengen area without visas.
Cercone stated that the "vast majority of migrants from Balkan countries were economic migrants rather than asylum seekers," with Serbia and Macedonia considered the major culprits.
Although Cercone refused to be drawn on precise numbers of fake asylum seekers from the region, he said that Germany had received 4,835 and Sweden 4,200 asylum claims in the first eight months of 2012 and, among these claims, those from the Western Balkans represented an "increasing trend."
The Serbian government reacted by saying that they were ready to compensate EU countries for costs caused by "fake asylum seekers" in their country, with Prime Minister Ivica Dacic stating that suspending visa free arrangements would punish honest claimants.
"This is about less than 10,000 asylum seekers in all of Europe. We will pay the costs for those 10,000 because that would be less damaging," he said.
"Everything will be done so that the visa liberalisation is not abolished," he added.
Conversely, ministers from eight former Soviet Bloc countries sent an open letter to their counterparts calling on the EU to relax rules on visas for Moldovans, praising the country for having offered "many proofs of their willingness and capacity to advance key reforms in line with the Republic of Moldova's European aspirations."
Although other eastern European countries, including Russia and Ukraine, are also keen to get visa-free access, the eight ministers asserted that Moldova had "consolidated its position as the frontrunner in the Eastern Partnership."
In their letter, the ministers said that agreement to move into the second phase of the EU's Visa Liberalisation Action Plan could be reached in November.