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ANNEX I: About the ESI Schengen White List Project

The Schengen White List Project - Visa-free travel for the Western Balkans

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 to have to obtain a visa to visit the EU.

Applying for a Schengen visa is time-consuming, costly and stressful. People throughout the region perceived the visa requirement as personal rejection, unable to reconcile it with the offer of a future in the EU. Pro-EU reformers felt discriminated; businesspeople despaired over the limitations that the visa obligation imposed on their companies' growth potential; young people felt 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 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 was 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.

The process had to 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 Western Balkan countries were undertaking to keep the EU safe and to prevent illegal migration, organised crime and terrorism.

For this reason, ESI collected all relevant documents and placed them online. We published declarations, newsletters, all the roadmaps, the activity and progress reports sent by Western Balkan governments to the European Commission, as well as the Commission's assessments.

We also put together a special website: www.whitelistproject.eu. Here, one can find excerpts from all the relevant EU policy documents. There is also a detailed description of the EU legislative process that must be completed before a country can enjoy visa-free travel to the EU.

At the end of 2009 three Western Balkan countries – Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – finally obtained visa free travel. Bosnia and Albania will follow at the end of 2010. At the time of writing, Kosovo and Turkey remain the only EU candidates and potential candidates in South East Europe without a visa roadmap.

The Schengen White List Project was supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

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