Compendium – the most important website texts in one document
Strict but fair – The declaration. Also available in Turkish.
The Western Balkans and visa free travel
As far back as 2003, the EU pledged to begin discussions with the governments of the Western Balkans on the reforms necessary to lift the visa requirement for entering the Schengen area. This obligation was imposed on the region in the 1990s when war ravaged former Yugoslavia and when Albania was mired in chaos.
It took five long years for the promised discussions to begin. In the meantime, Macedonia became an official candidate for EU membership, while Albania's, Bosnia and Herzegovina's, Montenegro's and Serbia's "potential candidate" status was repeatedly underlined. Their citizens, however, continued having to obtain a visa to visit the EU.
Applying for a Schengen visa is time-consuming, costly and stressful. People throughout the region perceive the visa requirement as personal rejection, unable to reconcile it with the offer of a future in the EU. This is vividly illustrated by the stories from the "Balkan ghetto". Pro-EU reformers feel discriminated against; businesspeople despair over the limitations that the visa obligation imposes on their companies' growth potential; young people feel imprisoned.
In 2008, the EU at last formulated a series of demanding requirements, assigning concrete "visa roadmaps" for each country – visa-free travel being the reward for meeting these benchmarks.
The goal of ESI's Schengen White List Project for the Balkans was to contribute to the abolition of the visa restrictions for the Western Balkans on the basis of this approach.
We wanted to make sure that the EU-led process was merit-based: strict but fair. This is the key message of the declaration made by the Schengen White List Project advisory board, chaired by former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, and by ESI in 2008.
This required that the process be transparent. The citizens of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia had to know what had been asked of their governments in order to hold them accountable for progress (or lack thereof). The European public deserved to know about the far-reaching reforms that the countries are undertaking in order to keep the EU safe and to prevent illegal migration, organised crime and terrorism. The process itself became more credible and resistant to manipulation when it was transparent.
For this reason, ESI collected relevant documents and put them online. They include the roadmaps, reports on activities and achievements sent by Western Balkan governments to the European Commission, and the Commission's assessments.
On this site, you can find a short history of how we got from Thessaloniki to the current process. It illustrates, among other things, the biases in the EU countries that had to be overcome. You can also find excerpts from all the relevant EU policy documents and a chronology as tools for future research. Finally, we include a detailed description of the EU legislative process that is necessary for any country to enter the Schengen White List.
The road to visa-free travel
ESI newsletters on Balkans visa
The Schengen White List team:
ESI is grateful to the Robert Bosch Stiftung for supporting ESI's visa-related work on the Western Balkans and the Schengen White List Project.
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