Wednesday, September 19, 2007


BRUSSELS, Belgium (September 19,2007) — The European Union signed visa agreements with five Southeastern European nations yesterday making it easier and cheaper for citizens from those countries to travel to some parts of the 27-nation union.

Agreements were signed with Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia on simplifying travel documents.

The five countries also signed new "readmission agreements" that will oblige them to take back citizens who are in the EU illegally.

EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said the accords were a move "toward closer cooperation between the EU and Western Balkan countries in the sensitive areas of migration and movement of persons."

Frattini said the signing of the agreements also meant that the EU could soon start negotiations with the countries on a "possible visa-free regime."

Under the new visa rules, students, researchers, business people and journalists from Southeastern European nations will be able to apply for and obtain visas to the EU more quickly. Some categories of travelers will be able to apply for multiple-entry visas, officials said.

The EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn said: "I warmly welcome the signature of these important agreements. They are very important for the people of the Western Balkans and help to improve people-to-people contacts between the citizens of the EU and the region. They are a further proof of the EU's commitment to the region's EU perspective. Now we expect proper implementation of both agreements, so as to pave the way for a dialogue on visa-free travel and its conditions with each of the countries of the region".

Following the mandate given by the Council on 13 November 2006, the European Commission started the negotiations of the nine Community agreements on 30 November and succeeded in finalising the whole process and initialling the draft agreements with all Western Balkan countries in April/May 2007.

The cost of an EU visa will drop from 60 euros ($83.26) to 35 euros ($48.57) for most Western Balkan citizens and holders of diplomatic passports will be exempted from the visa obligation.

EU citizens are already exempt from the visa obligation by the Western Balkan countries.

The visa and readmission agreements will apply to 15 EU states in the so-called Schengen borderless travel area. That number is expected to grow by nine at the end of the year. But Britain, Ireland and Cyprus will remain outside the EU borderless travel area.

The effective implementation of the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements will ensure a better management of the migration pressure and will make it possible to envisage a structured dialogue along the path set out by the Thessaloniki agenda towards a visa free travel regime for the citizens of Southeastern European countries. In this context, the Southeastern European countries are expected to accelerate the implementation of relevant reforms in basic JLS areas, such as strengthening the rule of law, fighting organised crime and corruption, and increasing their administrative capacity in border control and security of documents by introducing biometric data.

Following yesterday's signing of Agreements on Visa Facilitation and Readmission between the European Union and Bosnia, Ambassador Dimitris Kourkoulas, Head of the European Commission Delegation to Bosnia, said: "I welcome the signing of the agreements which is an indication of the capacity of Bosnia to face challenges related to the integration into the European Union. It is also a concrete example of the EU commitment to establish closer relationship with Bosnia and its citizens."

Ambassador Kourkoulas also expressed deep concern about the lack of progress in Bosnia in completing the necessary reforms, most notably the police reform, in order to conclude the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Bosnia and the EU which is an important step on Bosnia's road to the European Union. “The lack of agreement on the necessary reforms is blocking Bosnia's road to the EU and is preventing its citizens to enjoy the benefits of the European integration.” said Kourkoulas.

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