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News 16 Oct 12

Brussels to Keep Visas Free in Balkans

Top EU official says current regime will stay in force in the Balkans despite calls from some European politicians it to be suspended.

Marija Ristic

Stefano Sannino, the European Commission's Director General for Enlargement, said the EU's visa-free regime will remain in force in the Balkans as long as it does not create major problems and disturbances.

“Visa liberalisation remains the biggest achievement that we managed to implement with all the countries of the region and the main point is to make sure that the system is not abused,” Sannino said on a visit to Macedonia.

“We are following this very closely. There is a determination [in the EU] to keep the door open and to keep the system of visa liberalisation in place,” he added.

At Monday’s meeting of the Council of EU Ministers, Interior Ministers of six EU countries requested that measures be taken to lower the number of asylum seekers from the Western Balkans.

Tanja Fajon, European Parliament rapporteur for visa liberalisation, told the Belgrade-based broadcaster B92 that the mechanism would probably be a subject of debate at the EU ministers' meeting on October 25.

She expressed the hope that no EU countries will unilaterarally try to restore visa requirements for nationals from the Balkan countries.

In December 2009, the European Union lifted visa requirements on citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, allowing them to travel into the Schengen zone without visas.

Since then, Serbia and Macedonia have received complaints about mass arrivals of asylum-seekers, mainly ethnic Albanians and Roma, filing applications in Sweden, Belgium, Germany and other European countries.

Eurostat, the European Union statistical office, says that in the first three months of this year, 3,390 people from Serbia sought asylum within the EU.

Macedonia produced 1,100 asylum-seekers in first quarter of this year. Another 865 came from Albania and 600 from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kosovo, which still has no visa-free agreement with the EU, produced 1,970 requests.

Some EU politicians have called for a suspension of the visa-free regime, including the spokesperson of the Christina Social Union in the German Bundestag, Hans Peter Uhl, who called for the privilege to be suspended for Macedonia and Serbia owing “to the mass violation of that right”.

Similar messages have been heard from politicians in Germany, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and France.

The EU Delegation to Serbia points out that member states cannot themselves decide to scrap the current visa mechanism, as such a decision needs to be brought by all EU member states.

Commenting on threats to suspend the regime, the Serbian Prime Minister, Ivica Dacic, has said that Serbia is ready to pay some of the costs of the asylum seekers who have gone from Serbia to the EU.

“It would beless damage to pay a few million euros for those 10,000 than for the EU to suspend the visa-free regime for Serbian citizens,” Dacic said.

He said that most were ethnic Roma and Albanians, and that Serbia needed to improve conditions in the areas where they live.

“It is not all right for all the citizens to pay the price. It is mostly about Roma and Albanians. We asked from the EU to send us their names, but then it is violation of their human rights. If we kick out Roma and Albanians from the buses, then the EU would not allow that,” explains Dacic.

He also announced that he will meet parliamentary working group for asylum seekers on Tuesday, in order to address this use urgently.

“We did a lot in this area, and I am still not sure why would anyone use Serbia or Macedonia as an examples of states in which visa liberalisation needs to be aborted, “ Dacic concluded.

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