Visa-free travel to Schengen for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina takes effect on 15 December

December 14, 2010

News Source: PASOS Secretariat, Prague, Czech Republic

Brings visa liberalization to all five Western Balkans countries covered by PASOS 2008/9 monitoring project

PASOS launches new project on working towards visa-free travel for EU’s six eastern neighbors: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine

Citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina with biometric passports will be able to travel to the Schengen area (22 EU member-states and three non-EU countries) without the need for a visa from 15 December 2010. The decision was approved by EU interior ministers on 8 November this year.

The decision means that visa-free travel to the Schengen area has now been granted to all five Western Balkans countries covered by the 2008-2009 PASOS project, Monitoring Western Balkans progress in fulfilling EC Roadmaps for visa-free travel. The citizens of Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia were granted visa-free travel to the Schengen area on 19 December 2009. The PASOS project devised a methodology that stressed the necessity for the Western Balkans countries to meet the technical requirements essential for visa-free travel to the EU.

The methodology was developed by Nadya Dimitrova, visa policy expert of the European Institute, Bulgaria, who led the Bulgarian government’s negotation team on migration and visa policies during Bulgaria’s approximation to EU standards. The PASOS project was designed to strengthen the hand towards the EU of the five Western Balkans countries, so that the decisions on visa liberalisation would be political ones take in the light of fulfilment of the technical reqruirements. Further information on the project and the resulting policy brief, Could EU visa-free travel become a key incentive for Western Balkans countries to establish better democratic institutions and the rule of law? are available here.

With the notable exception of Kosovo, the Western Balkans now benefit from visa-free access to most EU countries. On 5 November 2010, one of three independent think-tanks recognized by the PASOS Think-Tank Awards 2010, was Forum 2015 in Kosovo for the study and documentary “Living in a Ghetto,” which examined how EU visa rules have turned Kosovo into one of the most isolated countries in the world.

Building on the PASOS work in the Western Balkans, a new project has now been launched, entitled Paving the road towards visa-free travel between the Eastern Partnership countries and the EU. The goal of the project is to create a tipping-point for the achievement of visa-free relations between the Eastern Partnership countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – and EU member-states, and in the process to upgrade the legal and policy processes in the EaP countries.

The project draws on the experience of the Western Balkans, with the supervision of baseline studies and needs assessments by Marija Risteska, Executive Director of the Center for Research and Policy Making (CRPM), Macedonia, and of the indepth research methodology again by Nadya Dimitrova of the European Institute, Bulgaria, who brings her experience of having negotiated visa liberalisation with the EU for the government of Bulgaria.

By mid-February 2011, PASOS will publish the first set of national baseline studies into preparedness for visa-free travel of the six countries, and a comparative overview of the challenges that still face them.

The project will seek to achieve the goal of visa-fee travel to the Schengen area by:

• raising awareness among policymakers, civil society and media in the EaP countries, and fostering national and international engagement in policy debates on reducing barriers to people-to-people exchange between the EaP countries and the EU;

• policy dialogue and independent monitoring of progress towards meeting the criteria, shaping governments’ policies, legal framework and institutions to modernise practices in the fields of border security, international co-operation on migration and organised crime, and other areas necessary to foster closer integration with the EU through enhanced co-operation and visa–free travel;

• policy recommendations for EaP governments with a view to meeting the criteria, and for the EU concerning provision of technical assistance to assist EaP governments in meeting the criteria;

• advocacy at national and international level (EU member-states as well as EU institutions) for visa-free travel for EaP countries.

The PASOS members and partners in the six EaP countries working on the project are:

International Center for Human Development (ICHD), Armenia
Center for Economic and Social Development (CESD), Azerbaijan
Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS), Belarus
Office for a Democratic Belarus, Brussels
Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD), Georgia
Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) “Viitorul”, Moldova
Europe without Barriers, Ukraine

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