Visa facilitation

Interview wit Friso Roscam Abbing, EC Spokesperson for Justice and Home Affairs

Transcript of interview

VISA FACILITATION AGREEMENT BETWEEN EU AND WESTERN BALKANS – WHAT’S NEXT?

Shots of the joint signature ceremony of the Visa facilitation and Readmission agreement between EU and WB

On finalizing and implementing of Visa facilitation agreements

Now we hope that the EP will quickly co-sign and approve the readmission and visa facilitation agreements with the 5 Balkan countries and than it is in the hands of the parliaments of those countries. We of course trust that they will also ratify quickly because it needs to be done before 1st of January. Why? Because than the 5 Balkan countries can benefit from much lower visa fee – 35 euros instead of 60 euros, and I don’t need to explain to the citizens of those countries that it makes an enormous difference. So first let’s get the agreement completely legally approved. Secondly, than we need to work on implementation. The Vice President is of the view that we need to ensure that all member States of the EU at their consulates and embassies now well how to make use of those visa facilitations and that they interpret the agreements and the notions which are in the agreements in a similar way so that we don’t have differences – easier to get visa to go to one specific country than to another. It is important that we have a harmonised approach to this. He has instructed his services to work on the development of those very practical guidelines which the member states should be able to work with.

The ultimate aim is visa free regime – that’s the long term perspective. Now we have almost accomplished the first step which is visa facilitation and we can look at the next step. Firstly, let’s implement properly facilitation agreements, let’s assure now that quite a number of categories can benefit, can quickly get a visa, that’s what visa facilitation means. Without to many bureaucratic administrative obstacles get a visa for students, businessmen, researchers and others – to quickly get a visa, that would be a tremendous step forward because it would mean that the possibility for “people to people contact” is incredibly enhanced.

On the form and timing of visa liberalization dialogue

Of course, the experts and the civil servants on both sides – in EC and in Balkan countries will now continue with their discussions, which, as I said, as an ultimate goal, could possibly result in a visa free regime. There will be discussion, there will be technical discussions and maybe time path developed before it can be transferred to more political level. This is not for tomorrow; let me not rise too many over optimistic expectations. Let us first enjoy, celebrate and appreciate what we have achieved now, which is getting access to EU in a facilitated way, easier way. In a longer term, ultimately, as both parties agree will be a visa free regime.

Shots of border crossing Horgos between Hungaryand Serbia. Passport control.

Criteria for progress towards visa free regime for Western Balkan countries?

They are included in our visa free regulation – the EU law which specifies which countries can benefit from visa free regime. And before the Council can decide that a certain country can benefit from visa free regime it will take in consideration a number of factors, namely its geographical, political situation, its determination to combat illegal immigration, its capacity to ensure that we have full cooperation amongst low enforcement authorities, that there is very strong and tough stance on avoiding that documents are forged. So the security, the safety of travel documents is another important factor. So we have a number of important factors which have been already agreed upon by the council, reflected in the EU law. Basically, they are the same for every third country in the world.

Can Western Balkans countries or some of them achieve visa free regime by 2010?

We understand the willingness, the eagerness, also the fact that those states want to benefit from visa free regime as soon as possible. It’s understandable. But I hope you will also appreciate that we at the EC side first would like to focus on proper implementation of the visa facilitations, than to start discussions on visa free regime and we will see in due time when this will materialize in deed in visa free regime.