Brussels, May 7 2008
European Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot, in charge of Justice, Freedom and Security officially presented the Roadmap on visa liberalisation with Serbia in Belgrade today. The Roadmap gives clear indications to the Serbian authorities on the measures that need to be taken in order to grant visa free travel to all Serbian citizens.
"The time of isolation for Serbia is over" said Vice President Jacques Barrot when presenting the Roadmap in Belgrade today. "With the recently signed Stabilisation and Association Agreement this Roadmap constitutes the opening of the doors of the EU to all citizens of Serbia and their welcoming in the great family of a united Europe. I attach the greatest importance to facilitating people to people contacts between Serbia and the EU, as this will increase mutual understanding and improve our relations in all fields. But facilitating travelling to the EU is in particular important to the younger generation in a country where 70% of the young people have never travelled abroad."
"But the roadmap offers more advantages to the Serbian citizens", VP Barrot continued, "as it will encourage Serbia to implement relevant reforms and reinforce cooperation at regional level and with the EU in areas such as strengthening the rule of law, fighting organised crime and corruption. It will also increase Serbia's administrative capacity in border control and security of documents by introducing biometric data."
Since 1 January 2008, Serbian citizens enjoy the benefits of a visa facilitation agreement with the European Union. This agreement provides simplified conditions for visas, including a waiving of a visa fee for a broad range of categories of citizens including students, sportsmen and sportswomen, cultural workers, journalists, people visiting family members living in the EU, people in need of medical treatment, economic operators working with EU companies, etc. Up to 80% of Serbian citizens can currently be exempt of a visa fee. People who pay for visa are charged the special reduced rate of 35 euros instead of 60 euros.
Yet the EU sent another strong message of openness/encouragement to all Serbian citizens. On 30 January 2008 the dialogue on visa liberalisation was launched. The General Affairs and External Relations Council of 28 January 2008 welcomed this step and invited the Commission to present detailed roadmaps setting clear benchmarks to be met by all the countries in the region in order to gradually advance towards visa liberalisation. The Roadmap presented to Serbia officially today is the first in line.
The Roadmap follows a balanced approach setting benchmarks which are realistic and achievable in the near future. It sets clear requirements for the reforms to be implemented in key areas such as security of documents, border management, fight against illegal migration, fight against organised crime and corruption and fundamental rights.
The process will be closely monitored by the Commission assisted by Member States' experts. The Commission will report regularly on the implementation of the Roadmap and will consider the possibility to present a proposal for the lifting of the visa obligation for Serbian citizens.
In line with GAERC conclusions dated 28 January 2008, the Commission opened a structured dialogue on visa liberalisation with 4 Western Balkan countries (Serbia, FYROM, Montenegro and Albania) during the first months of 2008. Opening of the dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina will be announced in the coming weeks.
The Commissions' Communication on the Western Balkans stated that the Commission will develop detailed roadmaps setting up clear benchmarks to be met in the coming years in order to advance towards visa liberalisation. The Commission is currently working on the Roadmaps for the other countries that will be presented in the coming weeks.
Having in mind the wide range of issues relevant for the visa liberalisation dialogue and the need to establish an adequately secured context for visa free travel, the objective of the Roadmap is to set up clear requirements and identify all the measures that need to be adopted and implemented by the Western Balkan countries in the near future.
The effective implementation of the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements is a concrete stage and pre-condition for the success of the visa liberalisation dialogue.
The Roadmap identifies four sets of issues to be covered by the dialogue: document security, illegal migration, public order and security as well as external relations items linked to the movement of persons. Key elements of the blocks include: improvement of document security and in particular the introduction of biometrics in travel documents, better management of migratory risks, efficient law enforcement cooperation including cooperation with Europol and enhanced measures to fight against organised crime and corruption.
The dialogue will allow each country to focus reform efforts and address the EU’s requirements. The speed of movement towards visa liberalisation will depend on the progress made by each of the countries in fulfilling the conditions set.
Concerning the structure, the dialogue will be conducted by senior officials who could decide to organise technical meetings at expert level for specific items. The Commission will report regularly to the Council on the implementation of the Roadmap. The whole process will allow the Commission to make a proposal at the appropriate moment to the Council for the lifting of the visa obligation for Serbian citizens.