The Commission presented its 4th report on the follow-up 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 of the 3rd report under the visa suspension mechanism.
For countries that have been visa-exempt for less than seven years (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), the report also provides a more detailed assessment of other measures taken to ensure continued compliance with the criteria. The report concludes that all affected countries continue to meet visa liberalization requirements and have made progress in implementing 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.
Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said: “Visa-free travel between the EU and the Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries is an important achievement. While restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a major impact on mobility, visa-free countries in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership must continue and step up their efforts in the management of migration and asylum and in the fight against corruption and organized crime.
Migration, asylum and cooperation on readmission
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions have had a major impact on migration and mobility to the EU. The vast majority of those who have visited the EU have done so for legitimate reasons. While all of the countries assessed have continued to take action to tackle irregular migration, further efforts are needed to address persistent concerns:
- Asylum applications sharply reduced in spring 2020. However, several countries must continue to address the problem of unfounded asylum requests from their citizens, in particular by strengthening participation in the European Multidisciplinary Platform against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) and continuing to organize targeted information campaigns.
- While return rate 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 of some countries in the Western Balkans continues to raise concerns, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- The Frontex status agreements with North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina should be rapidly finalized and implemented.
- To ensure a well-managed migration and security environment, a prerequisite for continued compliance with visa liberalization criteria, assessed countries must ensure further alignment with EU visa policy.
Public order and security
All of the countries assessed continued to take measures to prevent and fight against organized crime. However, more efforts are needed to address internal security concerns:
- Countries should take steps to fight against organized crime, financial fraud and money laundering, in particular through better coordination between law enforcement authorities.
- High level corruption remains a matter of concern. In some cases, anti-corruption efforts are further hampered by the limited capacity and legal status of anti-corruption agencies as well as the low number of convictions in corruption cases that go to trial (especially in Moldova and Ukraine).
- Visa-free countries grant citizenship in exchange for an investment should effectively phase out these regimes, in order to prevent nationals of other visa-required countries from circumventing the EU’s short-stay visa procedure and the in-depth assessment of the migration and security risks it behaves.
The Commission will continue to monitor compliance with visa liberalization requirements through meetings of senior officials as well as through regular meetings of the Justice, Freedom and Security subcommittee and bilateral and regional dialogues between the EU and visa-free countries. For the Western Balkans, this monitoring will also be done through regular enlargement reports and, where appropriate, 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 with 61 countries. Under this visa-free regime, non-European citizens with a biometric passport can enter the Schengen area for 90 days, within 180 days, without a visa. Visa-exempt travelers visiting the Schengen area will be subject to the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) from the end of 2022.
As a member of Reinforced visa suspension mechanism, adopted in March 2017, the Commission monitors the continued compliance with visa liberalization requirements by third countries that obtained visa waivers following a visa liberalization dialogue less than seven years ago, and report to the European Parliament and the Council at least once a year.
The report is the 4th under the visa suspension mechanism, after the First report on the visa suspension mechanism of December 2017, Second report on the visa suspension mechanism published in December 2018 and Third report on the visa suspension mechanism published in July 2020.
Data in this report refers to calendar year 2020, with updates to 2021 where applicable.
Citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia have been able to travel to the EU without a visa since December 2009. For citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, this has been possible since the end of 2010. For Moldova, the visa waiver entered into force in April 2014, for Georgia in March 2017 and for Ukraine in June 2017.