Newsletter 11/2011 - Our South East Europe
Visa free travel arrangements create feeling of acceptance and inclusion, benefit knowledge society
A recent action that has made a significant impact on the lives of citizens in South East Europe (SEE) is the Visa Facilitation Agreement with the European Union (EU) which, at the end of the last year, entered into force in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, who thus joined The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia that entered the visa-liberalized regime a year earlier.
The decisions on visa free access are based on the progress made by the countries concerned in implementing major reforms in areas such as strengthening the rule of law, combating organised crime, corruption and illegal migration, and improving their administrative capacity in border control and security of documents.
However, this practical advantage is to be closely monitored by European Union institutions to ensure implementation of the required reforms as well as the respect of visa liberalisation ground-rules set in the decision. Should there be difficulties arising with flows of persons from the countries of the Western Balkans, the European Commission introduced a mechanism of emergency consultation so that EU and its member states can, in cooperation with the authorities of the countries concerned, find the best possible solution. If a solution is not found, the Commission may propose the suspension of visa free travel.
Bogdan Aurescu, Secretary of State for European Affairs at Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says that his country welcomed the significant steps forward in the liberalization of the visa regime, both at bilateral level and with the EU, achieved by the countries of the region during the last two years.
“Facilitating people-to-people contacts is also a confirmation of the commitment of the EU towards the Western Balkans region with direct impact on our citizens in terms of economic, cultural and education opportunities.”
Furthermore, adds Aurescu, visa liberalization positively impacts the public opinion, since it is a measure with direct, concrete effects for the citizens interested to travel to EU.
“Besides the practical benefits, it helps creating a sense of acceptance and inclusion, important in order to maintain a high level of public support for the objective of EU accession.”
Advantages of visa liberalization regime for the Western Balkan countries involve free movement of persons which, though offering access to knowledge, exchange of experiences and practices both within the region and in the EU, directly shapes cooperation in all segments of South East European (SEE) societies.
Senad Sepić, Deputy Minister of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, stresses that countries from the region have made significant progress in establishing lasting stability in this part of Europe.
“In practical terms, the Ministry of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina has made significant strides in policy areas such as education, science, culture, health and sports, which contributed to the European integration of our country.”
Sepic reiterates his firm belief that the future of his country and its neighbourhood should be based on knowledge and experience.
Programmes such as Eureka, European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST), Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), Central European Exchange Program for University Studies (CEEPUS), modernising higher education in EU neighbours (Tempus) and Culture 2007-2013 that Bosnia and Herzegovina implements with regional and EU partners, can only benefit from the visa free travel regime.
“Our policies have to envisage this and become an integrative tool. We need to gain knowledge through our own work and use the values of our European partners. Hopefully, the slogan Our country, our region, our European Union will become reality for our people in the near future.”
Some issues, however, that require immediate attention of the beneficiaries of the visa-free regime in SEE have already surfaced.
According to European Stability Initiative’s (ESI) findings, around 20,000 people, mostly from Serbia and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, are currently seeking asylum in the EU countries.
Another side-effect of the visa liberalisation regime is increase in cross-border crime.
Aurescu explains how some of these issues could be addressed. “In 2010, the Ministry of Administration and Interior of Romania implemented bilateral Cooperation Plans with its counterparts from Hungary, Bulgaria, Republic of Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine, focused on border management and countering illegal migration and trans-border organized crime.”
“At the same time, Romania is participating in all regional initiatives with the aim to enhance cooperation in the fight against trans-border organized crime, anti-corruption, migration, asylum, refugees, fundamental rights, cooperation in civil matters and protection of children.“
An issue closely related to visa-liberalization is legal migration of population.
Aurescu is of the opinion that EU dialogue with candidate and partner country authorities should include discussion on how the developmental impact of migration can help strengthen stability and foster growth in the region.
“Policies to prevent brain drain should be developed, such as investment in training and capacity-building to improve working conditions and to increase work opportunities, thereby helping to prevent skilled work force from leaving.”
 Council of the European Union, 2010 PRESSE 294, Brussels, 8 November, Visa liberalisation for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/jha/117555.pdf
 Are asylum seekers threatening visa-free travel? Interview with Alexandra Stglmayer, General Secretary of European Stability Initiative (ESI) at http://seetv.blastmedia.eu/story/index/vocabulary_id/themes/term_id/264/story_id/16193/media_id/39558