Western Balkans and EU - Part 20

posted by julia on 2006/04/30 15:04

[ Western Balkans and EU ]

This week the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council decided that the Schengen short-term visa price would be raised from 35 to 60 euros as of January 1, 2007 (except for children under six, students, and researchers). The reasons for this higher price is the set up by the end of 2007 of a central visa information system (VIS) including biometric data (cf. EurActiv).

This decision is a blow for the Western Balkan countries who were promised visa facilitation in the EU communique "The Western Balkans on the road to the EU" (cf. this blog, 1.3.2006). The visa decision seems to go into the opposite direction. To soften this blow, the EU decided to give the Western Balkan countries the possibility to negotiate special agreements with the EU on the readmission of illegal immigrants and, in exchange, to receive visa at a lower price. Similar agreements will be negotiated with countries participating in the EU Neighbourhood Policy.

Although the Western Balkan countries have been promised EU membership in Thessaloniki, they are treated like "privileged partners" rather than potential member states - an issue I already raised in this blog, 22.3.2006. The decision on the rise of visa prices sends a negative signal of exclusion to the citizens of Balkan countries and creates even more resentment against the EU. It reinforces the division between Croatia and the other Balkan countries, as Croatian citizens do not need a visa to travel into the Schengen area. It also creates domestic divisions in countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina where a part of the population has both the Bosnian and the Croatian passport.

It is more a question of principle than a practical issue because the price of the visa is only a small part of what people travelling into the Schengen area have to pay, as it adds up to the cost of a special insurance for travelling abroad, the costs of travelling to the next embassy or consulate to ask for a visa, the cost for obtaining some official documents from domestic authorities, translating them, etc.

Several NGOs and associations such as the Citizens Pact for Southeast Europe and the Exit Festival have protested against the decision to raise visa prices (cf. the Trot-i-net blog on the campaign "Not 60 euros", the Transitory-I blog and the Redaktionsblog on "Kakanien revisited").

Think tanks such as the Centre for European Policy Studies or the International Crisis Group have been lobbying for years for the lifting of visa restrictions as they impede exchange between the EU and the Balkans and create incentives for corruption and criminal practices such as trafficking of people and goods (cf. ICG, EU Visas and the Western Balkans , 29.11.2005; Risto Karajkov, Vis-à-vis Freedom of Movement, Transitions Online, 14.12.2005/the same article in French).

Some of their arguments have been heard: In 2005 the EU decided to facilitate access to visa to students, researchers and persons travelling for business reasons. The EU has also facilitated the obtention of transit-visas through the new EU member countries, which do not yet belong to the Schengen area. Other ideas of the Commission, such as an EU Green Card scheme have been rejected by the EU member states (EU Observer, 22.12.2005).

To conclude, an extract of the report of the International Commission on the Balkans, The Balkans in Europe’s Future, 2005, pp. 33 et 34:

Among the most discouraging findings of the Commission is that the
European generation of the Balkans, young men and women under 30
who share the values of Europe most keenly and who vote for pro-
European parties most regularly, are those who experience the greatest
difficulties in visiting the EU. More than 70% of students in Serbia
have never travelled abroad. The Commission believes that this should
change as a matter of urgency. This is most urgent for the youth of the
countries which have been most isolated from Europe: Serbia and
Montenegro, Bosnia, Albania.

Bulgaria and Romania have demonstrated that freedom of movement
within the EU is the strongest signal that the EU can send both to the public
and to governments in the Balkans. A smart visa policy of the EU that
opens its borders to Balkan youth and Balkan businesses while closing
them for criminals should be at the very centre of policies that will
mobilise popular support for building EU member states in the Balkans.
The Schengen wall is the last wall that separates the Balkans from Europe.



This weblog is a forum for discussion on the political and social processes linked to EU integration in the Western Balkans. We would also like to use this space to create a virtual network of researchers on this topic. You are most welcome to contribute to this weblog with comments, postings, links, or photos. Please use the "add comment" function at the end of each posting!
All photos by the Photo Arts Collective of Kosovo. First photo by Burim Myftiu (Swimming olympiade in Klina). Second photo by Mimoza. Third photo by Dashmir Izairi.
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