20 March 2009, updated 15 June 2011
Compendium – the most important website texts in one document
About the Schengen White List Project
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 perceived 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 (former) "Balkan ghetto". Pro-EU reformers felt discriminated against; businesspeople despaired over the limitations that the visa obligation imposes 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 has been to contribute to the abolition of the visa restrictions for the Western Balkans on the basis of this approach. We have been successful: the visa requirement for Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia was llifted in December 2009, and for Albania and Bosnia in December 2010. Kosovo is now the only Western Balkan country whose citizens are under visa obligation and which has not been even offered a formal visa liberalisation process. This is something that ESI fights against, demanding the same process for Kosovo as for the other five Western Balkan countries.
ESI contributed to making sure that the EU-led process for these five countries was merit-based: strict but fair. This was the key message of the declaration made at the beginning by the Schengen White List Project advisory board, chaired by former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, and by ESI.
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 were 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 collected all 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 shared our belief that everybody gains from transparency.
In the meantime, an unexpected problem has emerged: following visa liberalisation for the first three Western Balkan countries at the end of 2009, the number of asylum seekers from Serbia and Macedonia has dramatically increased in four EU member states: Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Luxembourg. ESI has analysed the reaction of the EU and developed recommendations what the EU can do to resolve this problem (see "Visa-free Travel and Asylum"). On this site, you can find many texts that document and illustrate the Western Balkans' "road to visa-free travel". You can also find excerpts from all the relevant EU policy documents and a chronology as tools for future research. Finally, we included a detailed description of the EU legislative process that is necessary for any country to enter the Schengen White List.
While continuing to work on Kosovo and the asylum seekers' issue, ESI's attention is also turning to Turkey and Moldova and Ukraine. Over the coming months, ESI's website on Europe's Border Revolution and the Schengen White List Project will expand further.
ESI is grateful to the Robert Bosch Stiftung, which has made this project possible.
To share information on the process – or to send comments – please contact Alexandra Stiglmayer in Brussels.
The Schengen White List team:
The Schengen White List team – 2009