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Fifth report on the EU visa-free regime with the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries

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What is the Commission presenting today?

Today, the Commission reports the results of its monitoring of the EU visa waiver regime to Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, North MacedoniaAnd Serbia as well as Georgia, Moldova And Ukraine. For countries that obtained visa waivers less than seven years ago (Georgia and Ukraine), the report also provides a more detailed assessment of other measures taken to ensure continued compliance with the criteria.

What is the general assessment?

The Commission considers that all countries concerned have taken steps to follow up on the recommendations made in the previous report and continue to fulfill the visa liberalization requirements. However, the eight countries must continue to take additional measures to address the various concerns related to the fight against organized crime, financial fraud and money laundering, as well as to combat high-level corruption and migration irregular. In order to ensure a well-managed migration and security environment and prevent irregular migration flows to the EU, assessed countries must ensure further alignment with EU visa policy. Relevant countries should also take steps to phase out investor citizenship programs or refrain from systematically granting investment citizenship.

It is imperative that the reform process undertaken during the negotiations on visa liberalization continues and that countries do not roll back their gains.

What is a visa liberalization requirement (reference)?

While 61 countries Countries around the world benefit from visa-free travel to the EU; in some cases, visa-free access may be decided following bilateral negotiations, called “visa liberalization dialogues”. They build on the progress made by the countries concerned in implementing major reforms in areas such as strengthening the rule of law, the fight against organized crime, corruption and migration management and improving administrative capacity in terms of border control and document security.

Dialogues on visa liberalization have been successfully conducted between the EU and the eight countries covered in today’s report. On this basis, the EU has granted visa exemption to nationals of these countries; for Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia in December 2009, for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of 2010, for Moldova in April 2014, for Georgia in March 2017 and for Ukraine in June 2017.

These dialogues were based on “visa liberalization roadmaps” for the Western Balkan countries and “visa liberalization action plans” for the Eastern Partnership countries.

During the visa liberalization dialogues, the Commission closely monitored the implementation of the roadmaps and action plans through regular progress reports. These progress reports were then transmitted to the European Parliament and the Council and are accessible to the public (see here for the Western Balkan countries and here for Eastern Partnership countries).

Why does the report only assess 8 countries out of all those that have a visa-free regime with the EU?

The report focuses only on countries that have successfully completed a dialogue on visa liberalization: Albania; Bosnia Herzegovina; Montenegro; North Macedonia; Serbia; Georgia; Moldova and Ukraine.

Under EU rules, the Commission is responsible for reporting to the European Parliament and the Council on continued compliance with visa liberalization requirements by third countries that have successfully concluded a visa liberalization dialogue ago less than seven years old.

Georgia and Ukraine have been visa-free for less than seven years. The Commission is therefore required to report on continued compliance with the benchmarks. Regarding Moldova and the visa-free countries of the Western Balkans, which have been visa-free for more than seven years, the report focuses on the follow-up to the specific recommendations made by the Commission in the Fourth Report adopted in August 2021 and assesses the measures taken to remedy this. An assessment of aspects related to the visa liberalization criteria for the Western Balkans is included in the European Commission’s annual enlargement package.

What is the Commission doing to help partner countries fight organized crime and irregular migration?

The Commission, EU agencies and Member States are stepping up operational cooperation to combat organized crime and irregular migration with the countries assessed in the report.

On December 5, the Commission presented an EU action plan for the Western Balkans. It aims to strengthen cooperation on migration and border management with Western Balkan partners, in light of their unique status in view of EU membership and their continued efforts to align with EU rules.

Partner countries are encouraged to actively participate in all relevant EU policy/policy cycles.EMPACT operational action plans undertaken to combat serious organized crime. THE Joint EU-Western Balkans Action Plan on Counter-Terrorism constitutes an important roadmap and demonstration of our enhanced cooperation to address key priority actions in the area of ​​security, including the prevention of all forms of radicalization and violent extremism, as well as the challenges posed by return foreign terrorist fighters and their families.

The EU has signed a number of status agreements with Western Balkan countries on border management cooperation. The agreements allow the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to carry out deployments and joint operations in the territory of neighboring third countries. A number of agreements have been successfully implemented and the remaining agreements are expected to be finalized quickly.

Cooperation between Frontex and partner countries takes place within the framework of working agreements at different levels and includes cooperation on return operations as well as exchanging information, sharing best practices and carrying out analyzes joint risks.

The Commission also provides significant financial support to partner countries to support capacity building and law enforcement reforms.

What is the Commission doing to ensure partner countries align with EU visa policy?

Visa policy alignment is a prerequisite to ensure continued compliance with visa liberalization criteria as well as to ensure a well-managed migration and security environment.

All countries covered by the report are required to take additional steps to align their visa policies with those of the EU. The Commission has consistently recommended, both in the Visa Suspension Mechanism reports and in the annual enlargement packages, that countries ensure greater alignment of their respective visa policies with the EU lists of third countries subject to visa, in particular with regard to these third countries. which pose irregular migration or security risks to the EU.

What are the next steps?

The report presents the measures to be taken by partner countries to ensure the sustainability of the reforms. Close monitoring is an ongoing process, including through meetings of senior officials as well as regular meetings of the Justice, Freedom and Security subcommittee and dialogues between the EU and visa-free countries, regular reports on enlargement, including, where appropriate, EU accession negotiations.

What is the revised visa suspension mechanism?

The visa suspension mechanism was first introduced as part of the EU visa policy in 2013. The mechanism gives the possibility to temporarily suspend the visa waiver for a third country, for a short period , in the event of a substantial increase in irregular traffic. migration from partner countries.

The European Parliament and the Council adopted a revised mechanism which entered into force in 2017. Under the revised mechanism, the Commission can trigger the suspension mechanism, whereas previously only member states could do so. Furthermore, the revised mechanism introduced the obligation for the Commission to:

  • monitor continued compliance with visa liberalization requirements which were used to assess the granting of visa-free travel to a third country following the successful conclusion of a visa liberalization dialogue;
  • report regularly to the European Parliament and the Councilat least once a year, for a period of seven years after the date of entry into force of visa liberalization for that third country.

The new measures allow the European Union to respond more quickly and flexibly to a sudden increase in irregular migration or internal security risks linked to nationals of a particular third country.

When can the suspension mechanism be triggered?

The suspension mechanism may be triggered in the following circumstances:

  • a substantial increase (more than 50%) in the number of people arriving irregularly from visa-free countries, including people staying irregularly and people refused entry at the border;
  • a substantial increase (more than 50%) in the number of asylum applications with a low recognition rate from countries (around 3-4%);
  • a decline in cooperation on readmission;
  • an increased risk for the security of Member States.

The Commission may also trigger the mechanism in the event that certain requirements are no longer met regarding compliance with the visa liberalization criteria by third countries having conducted a visa liberalization dialogue.

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