Brussels, 16 May 2007
Agreements on visa facilitation and readmission between the European Community and Serbia are initialled today
Serbia joins today the group of Western Balkan countries, with which visa facilitation and readmission agreements have recently been initialled.
Less than a month after visa facilitation and readmission agreements have been initialled with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, also Serbia has concluded the negotiations on such agreements today.
Vice-President Frattini, Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security highlighted that "these agreements are particularly important because I strongly believe that facilitating people to people contacts between Serbia and the EU can greatly help in increasing mutual understanding and improving our relations in all fields. I am also pleased", Vice-President Frattini added "that through the readmission agreement both sides are committed to working together in fighting illegal migration".
Commissioner Olli Rehn, responsible for enlargement, said "The new reform-and Europe-oriented government of Serbia has just been voted in a few hours ago. I am glad that the EU now is able to deliver its first commitment to this government by initialling the visa facilitation and readmission agreements. This is a strong and clear proof of the EU's commitment to Serbia".
The mandates for the European Commission to conduct these negotiations were adopted by the Council on 13 November 2006. Negotiations were officially opened at a ceremony of 30 November 2006 in Brussels.
The agreements aim at making it easier for Serbian citizens, in particular those who travel most, to acquire visas for the EU, whilst simultaneously having clear rules on combating illegal immigration. The initialled drafts of the Visa Facilitation agreements ensure to maintain the visa handling fee of 35€ instead of 60 € for all Serbian citizens and a total exemption from the visa fee for certain categories of applicants. Furthermore for certain categories of persons (e.g. businessmen, students and journalists) the necessary documents requested for supporting a visa application are simplified. For certain categories of frequent travellers the issuing of multi-entry visas with long periods of validity is provided. Finally, the holders of diplomatic passports are exempt from the visa obligation.
The initialled drafts of the agreements on readmission set out clear obligations and procedures for the authorities of both Serbia and EU Member States as to when and how to take back people who are illegally residing on their territories. The draft agreements cover not only the illegally staying nationals of both parties but also third country nationals and stateless persons being in an irregular situation provided they have a clear link with the requested Party (e.g. visa or resident permit).
Full respect of Human Rights as provided by the European Convention of Human Rights will also be guaranteed during the application of the readmission agreements.
EU citizens are already exempt from the visa obligation by all Western Balkan countries.
The conclusion of visa facilitation agreements is to be seen as a concrete step forward along the path set out by the Thessaloniki agenda towards a visa free travel regime also for the citizens of Western Balkan countries. Visa facilitation should encourage the Western Balkan countries to implement relevant reforms and reinforce their cooperation at regional level and with the EU in 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.
The Commission will now prepare the necessary procedural arrangements leading to formal signature of the agreements and subsequently start the process of ratification. All agreements should be concluded and enter into force before the end of 2007.
To find out more about Vice President Frattini's work please visit his website: http://www.ec.europa.eu/commission_barroso/frattini/index_en.htm
 The visa facilitation does not apply to UK and Ireland, which do not participate in the Schengen cooperation. It is applicable towards the rest of the EU and Norway and Iceland.