Post-visa liberalisation monitoring mechanism: Senior officials’ meeting between the European Commission and Bosnia and Herzegovina

A Senior Officials’ Meeting was gathered yesterday, 5 November 2014, in the framework of the Post-Visa Liberalisation Monitoring Mechanism (PVLMM). The exercise held in Sarajevo was co-chaired for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Security of BiH, Mr Bakir Dautbasic; for the European Commission, by Mr Ioan-Dragos Tudorache, Head of Unit for International Affairs and Mobility Partnership in the Home Affairs Directorate General, and by Ms Michela Matuella, Head of Unit for BiH at the  Directorate General for Enlargement. Representatives from several BiH institutions and authorities participated, providing their relevant updates.

The meeting provided an opportunity to review consistency of progress in relation to all reforms implemented as required in the visa liberalisation roadmap for BiH. Discussion followed up on  previous findings from other relevant meetings in the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Process, as well as on  a series of field visits, which were organised in the past few months, particularly on the outstanding benchmarks, with participation of EU member states’ experts. These outstanding benchmarks included: the closure of unauthorised border crossing places at the border with Montenegro; the setting up of the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption and Coordination of the Fight against Corruption; the establishment of an effective system for Police Data Exchange, also accessible to Prosecutors’ offices throughout BiH; the opening of the permanent centre for asylum seekers in Trnovo. The European Commission noted that, overall, very good progress was achieved in all of these fields. There are, however, still areas, including the fight against organised crime and corruption, as well as border management, in which further efforts are needed.

The PVLMM allows assessing consistency of progress achieved and sustainability of implementation of relevant reforms. Therefore, the meeting provided the opportunity also for a structured revision of all other benchmarks foreseen in the four blocks of the visa-liberalisation roadmap. Discussion ranged from issues related to document security (Block 1), to matters in the fields of asylum, border security and management of migratory flows (Block 2), efforts in the area of public order and security (Block 3), reforms in the field of human rights (Block 4).

On Block 1, the European Commission noted that security of documents in BiH can be considered as harmonised with EU/ICAO standards and duly implemented, although some uncertainty was present for several months last year due to the delay in   issuing of national identification numbers. BiH replaced all old passports for new second generation biometric documents. In October 2014, BiH was actually amongst the first countries in Europe to start to issue third generation biometric passports.

On Block 2, the opening of the permanent asylum centre in Trnovo and the preparation of a new BiH Law on Asylum were the most important developments. Once adopted, the new legislation shall bring full harmonisation with the EU acquis and the relevant best international and European practices. In the area of migration, the Draft of the Law on Foreigners is in progress and the final version is expected to be completed by the end of 2014. If adopted, changes imply a significant level of harmonisation with the EU acquis. In the area of border management, border surveillance needs to be further improved and border control capacities strengthened in terms of training and equipment. Opening of the joint police cooperation centre in Trebinje was a good step for strengthening cross-border cooperation; yet, it is important to have the centre fully operational as soon as possible.

The Fight against Organised Crime (OC) and terrorism remain at the very core of efforts in Block 3. Additional improvements are still required in this area, especially in the implementation of the strategy against organised crime and in countering violent extremism and radicalisation. Trafficking in Human Beings remains a specific critical element of security policy, which requires further improvements in terms of legislative amendments as well as protection and identification of victims. The financial crime and anti-money laundering system also needs additional improvements. Amendments to the criminal legislation are still needed and overall performances of the system are expected to increase. The consolidation of an initial track record of proactive investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in cases of organised crime and corruption at all levels is crucial.

On Block 4, the European Commission noted some progress in the various reforms and strategic efforts for human rights. Yet, discrimination and protection of minorities still present several critical points, which range from the necessary implementation of the ECtHR judgement in the Sejdic and Finci vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina case, to the establishment of a comprehensive framework for anti-discrimination. The inclusion of vulnerable groups, particularly of Roma citizens, and integration of returnees are two complex challenges that continue to require additional resources and sustained commitment.

EU representatives also raised the issue of the number of manifestly unfounded asylum applications that continue to be lodged by BiH citizens in several EU member states and Schengen Associated countries. Since the beginning of 2014, data shows that there has been a sharp increase of asylum applications to EU Member States and Schengen Associated Countries lodged by nationals of BiH, which is around 85% higher than the flow registered in the same period in 2013.

To address this issue, short and long-term measures to counter this negative phenomenon need to be implemented by BiH authorities systematically and through proper allocation of resources. Activities shall continue to include: public information campaigns, intensified investigations on facilitators, and implementation of adequate policies to improve social and economic inclusion of the most vulnerable groups of the population most likely to migrate, including Roma. The EU team also recalled that a visa-waiver suspension mechanism entered into force in January 2014. On this basis, EU Member States can request the Commission, in an emergency situation and as a measure of last resort, to examine the possibility of temporarily suspending the visa waiver for third-country nationals.

Information gathered at yesterday’s meeting by the European Commission will be used while drafting the next, fifth, PVLMM report which will be presented to the European Parliament and the Council.