"How visa-free travel makes Europe safer". Meeting with former interior ministers Giuliano Amato (Italy)
and Otto Schily (Germany) in Istanbul in July 2009 to discuss the ESI White List Project. Photo: ESI
Visa free travel for the Western Balkans
Applying for a Schengen visa is time-consuming, costly and stressful. People throughout the Western Balkans perceive the visa requirement as personal rejection, unable to reconcile it with the offer of a future in the EU.
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 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 is merit-based: strict but fair.
In February 2009 a small group of ESI analysts - Kristof Bender, Gerald Knaus, Alex Stiglmayer, Nick Wood - as well as ESI advisory board members Heather Grabbe, Radmila Sekerinska and Giuliano Amato - met in Rome to discuss what contribution ESI could make to the ongoing policy debate on visa issues in the EU concerning the Western Balkans.
One outcome of this meeting was a declaration. Another, very subjective, outcome was vastly increased confidence on our part that this time around, in 2009, there was a real chance to actually achieve something when it comes to bringing down the Schengen Wall between the EU and the Western Balkans.
Since then we have tried to make our contribution, with the tools of a think tank.
We published analyses. We gave presentations. We produced a glossary to allow as many people as possible to take part in an informed debate. We put documents online which are crucial for any fair evaluation of what has been done so far. We briefed policy makers in the Balkans when we learned new things. We met with sceptical decision makers in EU capitals.
Half a year later, the second meeting of the advisory board for the Schengen White List Project took place in Istanbul. ESI chairman Gerald Knaus and project director Alexandra Stiglmayer briefed the board's chairman, Giuliano Amato, a former prime minister and a former interior minister of Italy, as well as Otto Schily, former interior minister of Germany and special guest Milica Delevic, head of Serbia's European Integration Office, on the activities undertaken so far to ensure that the visa requirement is abolished for all Western Balkan countries. They also discussed the European Commission proposal on visa-free travel for the Western Balkans.
Among other things, it was agreed to continue to monitor whether Montenegro and Serbia would fulfill the remaining open benchmarks so that they qualify for visa-free travel from January 2010 onwards, as the Commission proposed; to help Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which do not yet fulfill the benchmarks, meet the conditions and be proposed for visa-free travel as soon as possible; and to ask for a roadmap for Kosovo, which has been left out of the EU's visa liberalisation process.
The Schengen White List project is supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung