Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs plan EU vacations


EU member states decided yesterday (30 November) that citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia will be able to travel to most of Europe without visas as of 19 December 2009, allowing prospective travellers to plan vacations abroad.

The new visa free regime will apply to all Macedonians, Montenegrins and Serbians who hold biometric passports. They will be allowed to travel to the Schengen area for up to 90 days per six-month period.

Persons who do not hold a biometric passport and residents of Kosovo who hold a Serbian passport issued by the Coordination Directorate in Belgrade will still need a visa. The same goes for persons who intend to work during a short stay or those who want to come for more than 90 days: they need visas and work permits.

The European Commission opened visa liberalisation dialogues in early 2008 with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The focal points of the dialogue have been the European Commission’s roadmaps, setting out the conditions that each country had to meet. 

After European Commission proposed lifting the visa obligation for the first three countries in July 2009, the European Parliament gave a positive opinion in November 2009 (EURACTIV 16/07/09).

The visa move has been eagerly awaited by citizens of Serbia, the largest of the three ex-Yugoslav Republics with 7.5 million people, but some feared it could ignite tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Indeed, ethnic Serbs there can hold two passports.

Last year, the EU eased visa restrictions on some Serbs, making visas cheaper and easier to obtain for students, athletes, journalists and people visiting family or working at companies in the EU.

Belgrade’s EU accession hopes are still being held up by the Netherlands because Bosnian Serb genocide suspect Ratko Mladic remains on the run, most likely in Serbia (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on ‘EU-Western Balkans relations’).

More efforts needed from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are also covered by the visa dialogue, are not included in the 30 November decision, as the Commission’s latest assessment showed that they did not yet meet all the requirements.

The Commission has stepped up its assistance to both countries in implementing the necessary reforms. A new evaluation will be made between December 2009 and February 2010. As soon as the two countries have achieved the required progress in implementing the roadmaps, the Commission will be ready to propose visa-free travel for their citizens. 

European Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot, responsible for justice and home affairs, underlined the political importance of the decision for the mobility of citizens from the three countries concerned. "By simplifying the mobility of the citizens of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, the EU will further foster the contacts between the Union and these countries and open a new era in our cooperation," said Barrot.

He highlighted the reforms put in place during the last two years by these countries, which dealt with justice, freedom and security.

"Today's decision reflects the clear European perspective of the Western Balkan countries and is the result of the hard work of the countries concerned to meet the requirements for visa liberalisation," said EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn.

"I strongly welcome this decision, which is an important step in the process of rapprochement with these countries," French Immigration Minister Eric Besson told reporters, after EU interior ministers had endorsed the move.

Besson said he had encouraged his EU counterparts "to continue this process with all Western Balkan nations, notably Bosnia and Hercegovina and Albania, once the European Commission has completed its roadmap" for those countries. 

He also expressed hope that a similar process could be launched for Kosovo. 

The EU decided on 16 July 2009 that citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia should be able to travel to the Schengen area without visas starting from the end of 2009, following recommendations adopted on 15 July by the European Commission (EURACTIV 16/07/09).

However, visa requirements will remain in place for citizens from Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, until both countries also meet the criteria set by Brussels.

Kosovo is not covered by the Commission's initiative either. The former Serbian province is a 'sui generis' case, as it is not recognised by four EU countries (Spain, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia) (EURACTIV 19/10/09).

The Schengen area is made up of 28 European countries: all EU member states except the UK and Ireland, as well as three non-EU members: Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. 

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