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Visa liberalization: Commission reports on continued fulfilment of requirements by Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries

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The Commission has presented its 4th report on the monitoring of the EU visa-free regime with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The report focuses on actions taken in 2020 to address  the recommendations in the 3rd Report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism.

For countries that have been visa-exempt for fewer than seven years (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), the report also provides a more detailed assessment of other actions taken to ensure the continuous fulfilment of the benchmarks. The report concludes that all countries concerned continue to meet the visa liberalisation requirements and made progress in addressing last year's recommendations. At the same time, the report highlights areas where further efforts are needed from each country. The report also states that visa-free movement continues to bring positive economic, social and cultural benefits to EU member states and partner countries.

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said: “Visa-free travel between the EU and the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries is a significant achievement. While restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on mobility, visa-free countries in the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership must continue and step up their efforts in managing migration and asylum and in fighting corruption and organized crime.”

Migration, asylum and co-operation on readmission

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The COVID-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions had a major impact on migration and mobility to the EU. The vast majority of those who did travel to the EU did so with legitimate grounds. While all countries assessed continued to take measures to address irregular migration, further efforts are needed to address ongoing concerns:

  • Asylum applications decreased sharply in the spring of 2020. However, several countries need to continue addressing the issue of unfounded asylum applications by their citizens, including by strengthening participation in the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT)and by continuing to organise targeted information campaigns.
  • While return rates decreased due to the limited availability of flights, good cooperation on return and readmission continues between Member States and participating countries.
  • Despite an overall decrease in the number of irregular border crossings, improvements in the areas of border and migration management are still needed. The reception capacity in some Western Balkan countries continues to raise concerns, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • The Frontex status agreements with North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina should be swiftly finalised and implemented.
  • To ensure a well-managed migration and security environment, a pre-condition for the continuous fulfilment of the visa liberalisation criteria, the assessed countries must ensure further alignment with EU's visa policy.

Public order and security

All countries assessed continued to take measures to prevent and fight organized crime. However, further efforts are needed to address internal security concerns:

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  • The countries should take action to effectively fight against organised crime, financial fraud and money laundering, especially through better coordination between law enforcement agencies.
  • High-level corruption remains an area of concern. In some cases, efforts against corruption are still hampered by the limited capacity and legal status of anti-corruption agencies as well as and the small number of convictions in those corruption cases which go to trial (especially in Moldova and Ukraine).
  • Visa-free countries granting citizenship in exchange for investment should effectively phase out such schemes, so as to prevent nationals of other visa-required countries from circumventing the EU short-stay visa procedure and the in-depth assessment of migration and security risks it entails.

Next steps

The Commission will continue monitoring the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation requirements through senior officials meetings as well as through the regular Justice, Freedom and Security subcommittee meetings and bilateral and regional dialogues between the EU and visa-free countries. For the Western Balkans, this monitoring will also take place through regular enlargement reports and, where relevant, EU accession negotiations. The Commission will continue to report to the European Parliament and the Council at least once a year.

Background

The EU currently has a visa-free regime in place with 61 countries. Under this visa-free regime, non-EU citizens with a biometric passport can enter the Schengen area for 90 days, within 180 days, without a visa. Visa-exempt travellers visiting the Schengen area will be subject to the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) as from the end of 2022.

As part of the Strengthened Visa Suspension Mechanism, adopted in March 2017, the Commission  monitors the continuous fulfilment of visa liberalisation requirements by non-EU countries that obtained visa exemption as a result of a visa liberalization dialogue fewer than seven years ago, and reports to the European Parliament and the Council at least once a year.

The report is the 4th under the Visa Suspension Mechanism, following the First Visa Suspension Mechanism Report of December 2017, Second Visa Suspension Mechanism Report issued in December 2018 and Third Visa Suspension Mechanism Report issued in July 2020.

Data from this report relates to the 2020 calendar year, with updates for 2021 where relevant.

Citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia can travel to the EU without a visa since December 2009. For citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, this is possible since the end of 2010. For Moldova visa-free travel entered into force in April 2014, for Georgia in March 2017 and for Ukraine in June 2017.

More information

Fourth Report Under the Visa Suspension Mechanism

Staff Working Document

Question and Answers

Strengthened Visa Suspension Mechanism

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Eastern Partnership

EU strengthens support to speed up vaccination in the Eastern Partnership region

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As part of the European Union's efforts to support vaccination in partner countries, the Commission today increased from €40 million to €75m its assistance package to deploy safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and speed up the vaccination campaigns in the six Eastern Partnership countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. With this new €35m assistance package the EU seeks to substantially increase access to vaccines in the Eastern Partnership region amid the global vaccine shortage, facilitating the vaccine sharing by the EU Member States and reimbursing the cost. This assistance complements the EU's support to the COVAX initiative, the world's facility to ensure fair and universal access to COVID-19 vaccines, and work towards an equitable and transparent distribution of vaccines over the Eastern Partner countries.

It comes in addition to the first package of support worth €40m, launched in February to immediately strengthen preparedness and local readiness for safe and effective vaccination of the population, in partnership with the World Health Organization. EU support included training of health managers and medical staff involved in the vaccination campaign, key logistical support for the delivery and handling of the vaccines and supplies, vaccination data and safety monitoring, communication and community engagement, as well as support for the development of a digital COVID certificate.

Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said: “The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on people, health systems and economies worldwide. The Eastern Partnership is unfortunately no exception. The EU is determined to support our Eastern neighbours to speed up vaccination as this will be decisive for ending the pandemic and launching the socio-economic recovery of the region. We care for our partners.”

A press release is available online.

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Eastern Partnership

#EasternPartnership - New policy objectives for beyond 2020

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Today (18 March), the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy have put forward a proposal for the long-term policy objectives of the Eastern Partnership beyond 2020.

These aim at increasing trade, strengthening connectivity and deepening economic integration with ArmeniaAzerbaijanBelarusGeorgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, strengthening democratic institutions, the rule of law, environmental and climate resilience, supporting the digital transformation, and promoting fair and inclusive societies. High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell said: “Our neighbours' strength is also the European Union's strength; the Eastern Partnership remains a crucial element of the EU's foreign policy. Our proposals will further strengthen our six partner countries, reflecting the priorities and challenges that we share, while maintaining the emphasis on delivering tangible, positive results for all citizens.”

Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said: “We are sending a very clear message to our Eastern partner countries: we will help you to build strong economies and to create growth and jobs by attracting foreign direct investment and by strengthening connectivity in key sectors, such as transport, energy and environment. We will work closely together to address today's challenges across the board, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Building on the achievements of the Partnership in the first 10 years, today's proposal outlines how the EU will work together with the partner countries to tackle common challenges and strengthen their resilience in the light of today's challenges as an overriding policy objective beyond 2020. In doing so, work between the EU and partners will continue on new policy priorities to support the ecological transformation, the digital transformation and to deliver on economies that work for all, in particular more job opportunities for youth and to promote gender equality.

Together, the EU and its Eastern Partners will create a partnership that creates, protects, greens, connects and empowers. The proposal is expected to be endorsed in view of the Eastern Partnership Summit in June 2020, which will give a mandate to develop a new set of tangible deliverables building on the current 20 Deliverables for 2020. A full press release on today's proposal is available online, as is a Memo and a factsheet. Individual country factsheets are also available online: ArmeniaAzerbaijanBelarusGeorgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine

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Eastern Partnership

European Union opens a structured consultation on the future #EasternPartnership

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The European Union institutions open a board and inclusive structured consultation on the future strategic direction of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). Over the past decade, the strengthened cooperation between the EU, its member states, and ArmeniaAzerbaijanBelarusGeorgiathe Republic of Moldova and Ukraine has proven to be mutually beneficial and has been delivering concrete results for citizens.The joint reform agenda of “20 Deliverables for 2020”, has successfully achieved key progress in working towards building stronger economies, stronger governance, stronger connectivity and stronger societies across the region. To mark the 10th anniversary of the EaP, a High Level Conference took place on 14 May, during which President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker launched discussions on the future of the Eastern Partnership. In this context, the European Council has tasked the Commission and the European External Action Service to present proposals for the future of the Eastern Partnership. Member States and Eastern partner countries; international organisations; international financial institutions; civil society; business and the private sector; academia; think-tanks; youth; media and other stakeholders are invited to share their views on a new post-2020 policy framework on the following website by 31 October 2019. Dedicated consultation events will be also held in partner countries and in the EU during this period.

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