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
- The visa facilitation and readmission agreements
- The visa roadmaps
- The readiness reports of the Western Balkan governments
- The progress assessments by the European Commission
- The Commission proposal for visa-free travel (15 July 2009)
- The opinion of the European Parliament (12 November 2009)
- The Council decision giving Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia visa-free travel (30 November 2009)
- The Commission proposal for Albania and Bosnia (27 May 2010)
- The European Parliament on Albania and Bosnia
- The Council decision giving Albania and Bosnia visa-free travel (8 November 2010)
- Commission Statement on a Monitoring Mechanism (8 November 2010)
- ESI advocates visa process for Kosovo (13 January 2011)
- ESI event in Berlin – Visa-free travel for the Western Balkans: What about Kosovo? (11 November 2010)
- The EU's border revolution: Schengen White List Project board meeting in Berlin (11 November 2010)
- OSI-ESI event in Brussels: Kosovo – Breaking the Isolation (29 June 2010)
- ESI in Moldova: Visa-free travel is in reach (29 April 2010)
- ESI in Tirana: Visa liberalisation in practice (2 April 2010)
- Conference in Tirana: "Visa-free travel for Albania – the final steps" (16 November 2009)
- ESI in Montenegro: The region's European perspective – the significance of visa liberalisation" (13 November 2009)
- ESI in Berlin: "Back to Europe. But how?" – Public discussion on the European visa policy (3 November 2009)
- ESI in Ljubljana: the importance of visa liberalisation for the young generation (13 October 2009)
- ESI in London: visa liberalisation as an example of EU soft power (30 September 2009)
- The final sprint: Albania's and Bosnia's progress in reaching the open benchmarks (9 August 2010)
- ESI Scorecard for Albania and Bosnia: Meeting the roadmap conditions (26 April 2010)
- Albania's catching up (November 2009)
- Bosnia's rapid advancement (September 2009)
- ESI visa "grade reports" (May/June 2009)
- France backtracking on EU promise to the Balkans? (ESI opinion, 29 September 2010)
- Visa-free travel for Albania and Bosnia in reach (Letter to EU officials, 26 April 2010)
- Urgency, complacency and a broken promise (Open letter, 26 February 2010)
- Visa-free travel in the Balkans (Op-ed, 6 December 2009)
- Winners, losers and the future of the Balkan ghetto (Op-ed, 16 July 2009)
- Visa-free travel for the Western Balkans – a win-win situation (Op-ed, 15 June 2009)
- Proposal for the way forward (Letter to EU officials, 1 June 2009)
- Schengen and the Balkans: Europe, tear down this wall! (Interview with Ivica Bocevski, 19 March 2009)
- Voices in support of freedom of movement
- Recommended reading and watching
- Excerpts from EU policy documents
ESI newsletters on Balkans visa
- 9/2009: 1989 and donkeys in Baku – Visa decision day in Brussels – ESI in Harvard (24 November 2009)
- 8/2009: Bosnia's visa breakthrough and the power of Europe (29 September 2009)
- 7/2009: Visa and Balkan Muslims – Kosovo Appeal by Amato and Schily – 10 years ESI (21 July 2009)
- 6/2009: Western Balkans Visa Grade Reports - Albanian Elections June 2009 (26 June 2009)
- 4/2009: ESI White List Visa Project – Exclusive Scorecard of Balkan Progress (22 May 2009)
- 2/2009: "The EU is not a Belgian company" and other European visa stories (20 March 2009)
- Gerald Knaus, ESI chairman
- Alexandra Stiglmayer, project director and ESI Senior Analyst
- Kristof Bender, ESI deputy chairman and Senior Analyst
- Angela Longo, ESI Analyst (until August 2011)
- Christian Atfuldisch, ESI Project Manager
- Martin Chatel, ESI Analyst
- Kristóf Gosztonyi, ESI Analyst
- Besa Shahini, ESI Senior Analyst (until November 2010)
- Verena Knaus, ESI Senior Analyst (until July 2010)
- Gledis Gjipali, Director, European Movement in Albania
- Blerta Hoxha, Analyst, European Movement in Albania
- Ditmir Bushati, Director, European Movement in Albania (until early 2009)
- Sanja Kostovska, Analyst, Center for Research and Policy Making in Macedonia (until early 2010)
- Dejan Anastasijevic, Journalist, Vreme, Serbia (until December 2009)
- Alida Vracic, Director of Populari, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Ilir Qorri, Researcher, European Movement in Albania (until December 2009)
- Goran Tirak, Analyst with Populari, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Engjellushe Morina, Executive Director, Kosovo Stability Initiative, Kosovo
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.