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 is to contribute to the abolition of the visa restrictions for the Western Balkans on the basis of this approach.
We want to make sure that the EU-led process is 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.
This requires that the process be transparent. The citizens of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have to know what has been asked of their governments in order to hold them accountable for progress (or lack thereof). The European public deserves 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 becomes more credible and resistant to manipulation when it is transparent.
For this reason, ESI has 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.
We want to thank the many officials in the EU member states, the EU institutions and in the Balkan region who share our belief that everybody gains from transparency. Transparency gets results: it will help produce a Balkans better integrated into the EU and more capable of fighting crime and illegal migration.
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 Schengen White List team – 2009
- Gerald Knaus, ESI chairman
- Alexandra Stiglmayer, project director and ESI Senior Analyst
- Kristof Bender, ESI deputy chairman and Senior Analyst
- Verena Knaus, ESI Senior Analyst
- Besa Shahini, ESI Senior Analyst
- Kristóf Gosztonyi, ESI Analyst
- Dejan Anastasijevic, journalist and author, Serbia
- Ilir Qorri, Program Director of the European Movement in Albania
- Sanja Kostovska, Public Policy Analyst, Centre for Research and Policymaking, Macedonia
- Alida Vracic, Director of Populari, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Engjellushe Morina, Executive Director, Kosovo Stability Initiative, Kosovo
- Goran Tirak, Analyst with Populari, Bosnia and Herzegovina