Today, the Commission is presenting its 4th report on the monitoring of the EU visa-free regime with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The report focuses on actions taken in 2020 to address the recommendations in the 3rd Report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism. For countries that have been visa-exempt for less than 7 years (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), the report also provides a more detailed assessment of other actions taken to ensure the continuous fulfilment of the benchmarks. The report concludes that all countries concerned continue to meet the visa liberalisation requirements and made progress in addressing last year’s recommendations. At the same time, the report highlights areas where further efforts are needed from each country. The report also states that visa-free movement continues to bring positive economic, social and cultural benefits to EU Member States and partner countries.
Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said: “Visa-free travel between the EU and the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries is a significant achievement. While restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on mobility, visa-free countries in the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership must continue and step up their efforts in managing migration and asylum and in fighting corruption and organised crime.”
Migration, asylum and cooperation on readmission
The COVID-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions had a major impact on migration and mobility to the EU. The vast majority of those who did travel to the EU did so with legitimate grounds. While all countries assessed continued to take measures to address irregular migration, further efforts are needed to address ongoing concerns:
- Asylum applications decreased sharply in the spring of 2020. However, several countries need to continue addressing the issue of unfounded asylum applications by their citizens, including by strengthening participation in the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT)and by continuing to organise targeted information campaigns.
- While return rates decreased due to the limited availability of flights, good cooperation on return and readmission continues between Member States and participating countries.
- Despite an overall decrease in the number of irregular border crossings, improvements in the areas of border and migration management are still needed. The reception capacity in some Western Balkan countries continues to raise concerns, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- The Frontex status agreements with North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina should be swiftly finalised and implemented.
- To ensure a well-managed migration and security environment, a pre-condition for the continuous fulfilment of the visa liberalisation criteria, the assessed countries must ensure further alignment with EU’s visa policy.
Public order and security
All countries assessed continued to take measures to prevent and fight organised crime. However, further efforts are needed to address internal security concerns:
- The countries should take action to effectively fight against organised crime, financial fraud and money laundering, especially through better coordination between law enforcement agencies.
- High-level corruption remains an area of concern. In some cases, efforts against corruption are still hampered by the limited capacity and legal status of anti-corruption agencies as well as and the small number of convictions in those corruption cases which go to trial (especially in Moldova and Ukraine).
- Visa-free countries granting citizenship in exchange for investment should effectively phase out such schemes, so as to prevent nationals of other visa-required countries from circumventing the EU short-stay visa procedure and the in-depth assessment of migration and security risks it entails.
The Commission will continue monitoring the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation requirements through senior officials meetings as well as through the regular Justice, Freedom and Security subcommittee meetings and bilateral and regional dialogues between the EU and visa-free countries. For the Western Balkans, this monitoring will also take place through regular enlargement reports and, where relevant, EU accession negotiations. The Commission will continue to report to the European Parliament and the Council at least once a year.
The EU currently has a visa-free regime in place with 61 countries. Under this visa-free regime, non-EU citizens with a biometric passport can enter the Schengen area for 90 days, within 180 days, without a visa. Visa-exempt travellers visiting the Schengen area will be subject to the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) as from the end of 2022.
As part of the Strengthened Visa Suspension Mechanism, adopted in March 2017, the Commission monitors the continuous fulfilment of visa liberalisation requirements by non-EU countries that obtained visa exemption as a result of a visa liberalisation dialogue less than 7 years ago, and reports to the European Parliament and the Council at least once a year.
Today’s report is the 4th under the Visa Suspension Mechanism, following the First Visa Suspension Mechanism Report of December 2017, Second Visa Suspension Mechanism Report issued in December 2018 and Third Visa Suspension Mechanism Report issued in July 2020.
Data from this report relates to the 2020 calendar year, with updates for 2021 where relevant.
Citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia can travel to the EU without a visa since December 2009. For citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, this is possible since the end of 2010. For Moldova visa-free travel entered into force in April 2014, for Georgia in March 2017 and for Ukraine in June 2017.
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