The Council of the European Union and the ministers for internal affairs from Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Serbia on 30 November 2009 in Brussels. Photo: Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union and the ministers for internal affairs from Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Serbia on 30 November 2009 in Brussels. Photo: Council of the European Union

The Council decision giving Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia visa-free travel (30 November 2009)

On 30 November 2009, the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which is made up of EU interior and justice ministers, took its official vote on the Commission visa proposal of 15 July 2009.1 The Council decided, closely following the Commission proposal:

  • to abolish the visa requirement for Macedonian, Montenegrin and Serbian citizens with biometric passports from 19 December 2009 by amending Council Regulation 539/2001 accordingly;
  • to exclude from the visa-free regime holders of Serbian biometric passports who are residents of Kosovo (which the Council always refers to as "Kosovo as defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999") or which were residents of Kosovo when they acquired the citizenship certificate. Serbian passports can be issued to Kosovo residents only by the so-called Coordination Directorate of the Ministry of Interior in Belgrade. Since passports always mention the issuing authority, those belonging to Kosovo residents are thus recognisable. The Council justified its approach with "security concerns regarding in particular the potential for illegal migration" (preamble to the legislative text);
  • to add Kosovo to the "black list" (Annex I) of Council Regulation 539/2001. This represents a formalisation of the existing visa requirement. The Council stressed that "this is without prejudice to the status of Kosovo (UNSCR 1244)."

Compared with the Commission proposal, the only difference was that the Council stipulated 19 December 2009 as the date for the start of visa-free travel for Macedonians, Montenegrins and Serbians, while the Commission had left the date of applicability of the amendments open. The early start in December had been suggested on 4 November 2009 in one of the Council working groups preparing the JHA Council meeting in order to allow the Balkan citizens to travel during the holiday season.

The Council disregarded the European Parliament suggestion to add Albania and Bosnia symbolically to the "white list" (with visa-free travel suspended until all conditions are met), but in its conclusions, it stressed:

"Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina are not considered to have met all the benchmarks agreed under the visa liberalisation dialogue with the countries of the Western Balkans. A political declaration, however, invites the Commission to propose visa liberalisation for these two countries as soon as they comply with all the benchmarks, with a view to achieving visa free travel for their citizens as soon as possible (see full text below)."

This political declaration, which is part of the conclusions, was the statement that European Parliament rapporteur Tanja Fajon had negotiated with the Council and which was approved by the Parliament on 12 November 2009. In the statement, the Council and the Parliament not only urged the Commission to work swiftly, but they also committed themselves to examining the Commission proposal concerning Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina "as a matter of urgency".

The Council also disregarded the European Parliament's suggestion that the Commission "should start a visa dialogue with Kosovo with a view to establishing a roadmap for visa facilitation and liberalisation similar to those established with Western Balkan countries."

This issue was taken up one week later by the General Affairs Council (EU foreign ministers), which met on 7/8 December 2009 and concluded:

"The Council stresses that Kosovo should also benefit from the perspective of eventual visa liberalisation2 once all conditions are met and invites the Commission to move forward with a structured approach to bring the people of Kosovo closer to the EU."

ESI considers this a step in the right direction, but the formulation is still timid and vague and does not offer Kosovo what the other Western Balkan countries have had: a visa roadmap.

[1] The voting mechanism that applied was "qualified majority voting", which meant that the proposal needed 228 out of 309 votes to pass. Each member state has between 3 and 29 votes. The number of votes roughly corresponds to population, but is weighted in favour of smaller states. Normally, there is a total number of 345 votes among the Council members, and a proposal requires 255 to be adopted. However, Ireland (7 votes) and the UK (29 votes) do not fully participate in Schengen (they decided to maintain their border controls) and thus do not vote on visa policy. So, qualified majority voting for a proposed amendment of Council Regulation 539/2001 to pass requires 228 out of 309 votes. The 228 votes must come from at least 12 member states, and any member state may also request verification that the qualified majority represents at least 62% of the total EU population without Ireland and the UK.

[2] Without prejudice to Member States' positions on status.

The Schengen White List Project