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.
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.