10 December 2008
ESI at conference on visa facilitation and visa liberalisation in the Western Balkans

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Interview with ESI Senior Analyst Alexandra Stiglmayer: "Making it to the White List". © 2008 South East Europe TV Exchanges. All rights reserved.

Measures aimed at making it easier for citizens of Western Balkan countries to travel to the EU were the topics of a conference organised by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) in Brussels at which ESI Senior Analyst Alexandra Stiglmayer spoke. The two measures are the visa facilitation agreements in force since 1 January 2008, and the visa liberalisation process that the EU launched this year. The visa liberalisation process is centred on a set of benchmarks listed in visa roadmaps, which the countries need to meet to qualify for visa-free travel. The countries participating in the process are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Alexandra Stiglmayer said that the visa facilitation measures did not make it much easier for Western Balkan citizens to obtain visas and that the five Western Balkan countries, all of which are official or potential candidates for membership, deserved visa-free travel. "Politically it is absurd that the EU has promised the Western Balkan countries a European future, but continues to make it difficult for their 20 million citizens to visit the EU," she said.

She added that the promise of talks on visa liberalisation was first made in Thessaloniki in 2003 and that it had taken far too long to make good on the promise by launching the current visa dialogues. She also said that frontrunners like Macedonia, which the European Commission expects to fulfil all the benchmarks next year, must be given visa-free travel for the current visa liberalisation process to be credible.

ECAS presented the results of a project that showed that the visa facilitation agreements did not make the cumbersome process of obtaining visas for entry into the Schengen area much easier. ECAS partner organisations had surveyed visa applicants at Schengen embassies and consulates in the Western Balkans and set up telephone hotlines where citizens could talk about their experiences.

About us
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Alan Grant is an Irish photographer who travelled extensively in the Balkans and other countries and regions of the world. Thanks to him, ESI is able to show fascinating pictures of the Balkans: the facades of Tirana, the painted mosques of Travnik, the fabulous old houses of Plovdiv and the spectacular blue of water - dark in the Bay of Kotor, emerald in the river valleys of Bosnia, deep blue in Ohrid, twinkling in the Aegean Sea and on the Bosporus.

You can find out more about Alan Grant on his websites:
Jonathan Lewis lives between London and Istanbul. He moved to London and spent many years studying photography and now specialises in photojournalism, documentary photography and commercial work for a wide variety of private and commercial clients in the UK, Europe and Turkey. His work has appeared in a number of magazines and publications and is used on the ESI website as well.

You can find out more about Jonathan Lewis on his website www.jonathanlewisphoto.com