On August 4th, 2021, the Commission presented the 4th Report Under the Visa Suspension Mechanism, which monitors the EU visa-free regime with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The report also focused on the recommendations made in the previous report.
According to the report, “Visa liberalisation has been a powerful tool to facilitate people-to-people contacts and to support reforms in the Western Balkans, and in the Eastern Partnership in the areas of justice, security and fundamental freedoms.”
At this time, nationals from these 8 countries can travel to anywhere in the Schengen area visa-free for stays of up to 90 days within 180 days.
However, towards the end of 2022, it’s expected that citizens from Western Balkans and Eastern Partner countries will require the ETIAS travel authorisation to visit EU countries.
ETIAS, the European Travel and Information Authorisation System, is part of the EU’s visa policy and will be an entry requirement for all visa-exempt travellers.
What is the Fourth Report Under the Visa Suspension Mechanism?
The Commission is responsible for monitoring the visa-free regime and reporting annually to the European Parliament and the Council on whether partner countries are fulfilling their visa exemption requirements. All the data gathered is included in the Report Under the Visa Suspension Mechanism.
For countries that have been in the visa exemption category for less than 7 years, like Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova, the report gives a detailed assessment of other “actions taken to ensure the continuous fulfillment of the benchmarks.”
This year’s report has concluded that all the countries have met the visa liberalisation requirements. Furthermore, they also made progress in addressing the recommendations made in the report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism.
Additionally, the report sheds light on the areas where each country needs to improve and focus on moving forward.
Commission highlights positive impact of visa-free regime
The report highlights the importance of meeting these requirements and states that visa-free movement brings positive economic, social, and cultural benefits to the EU Member States and partner countries.
Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs, said, “Visa-free travel between the EU and the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries is a significant achievement.”
Furthermore, Johansson added, “While restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on mobility, visa-free countries in the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership must continue and step up their efforts in managing migration and asylum and in fighting corruption and organised crime.”
Commission’s further recommendations to partner countries
Without question, the pandemic has had a profound impact on migration and mobility within the EU and its partner countries. However, most people who have travelled within Europe have done so with legitimate grounds.
The entire bloc must continue to work toward keeping the population safe. However, collaboration between the EU and partner countries is also needed to address irregular migration.
The Commission is concerned about a few significant issues, which include asylum seekers and readmission.
Data gathered by the EU shows that asylum applications decreased significantly in the spring of 2020. That said, many countries must address the issue of “unfounded asylum applications by their citizens”.
Western Balkans and Eastern Partner countries must strengthen their participation in the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) and by continuing to organise targeted information campaigns.
Cooperation is necessary between EU members and participating countries as people return to their home countries.
While there has been a decrease in the number of irregular border crossings, the Commission insists that improvements should be made in border and migration management.
Finally, to ensure that borders are well managed, and there’s a continuous fulfillment of the visa liberalisation criteria, partner countries must align themselves with the EU’s visa policy.
Commission’s expectations on public order and security
The Commission recognizes that all assessed countries have taken measures to fight against organized crime. Nevertheless, additional efforts must be made to deal with security matters.
Each country should be acting to get rid of organised crime, financial fraud, and money laundering. Coordination between law enforcement agencies is much needed at this time.
The Commission has identified high-level corruption as a major issue of concern, one that must be addressed. Unfortunately, in some cases, efforts against corruption are obstructed by different factors, including insufficient resources.
It has also been observed that some countries grant citizenship in exchange for investment. The EU recommends partner countries to eliminate these schemes to prevent nationals from visa-required countries from “circumventing the EU short-stay visa procedure and the in-depth assessment of migration and security risks it entails”.
The Commission will continue to evaluate the visa liberalisation requirements through senior officials, meetings, and bilateral dialogue.
Strengthened Visa Suspension Mechanism
The Strengthened Visa Suspension Mechanism was adopted in March 2017. Through this system, the Commission monitors whether non-EU countries are fulfilling their visa liberalisation requirements or not.
Nationals of Montenegro, Serbia, and North Macedonia have traveled to the EU visa-free since 2009. Meanwhile, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens have visa-free status as of 2010. Moldova joined the visa-free status in 2014, Georgia in March 2017, and Ukraine in June 2017.