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IP/08/837

Brussels, 3 June 2008

Roadmap on visa free travel opens EU doors to Albania

European Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot, in charge of Justice, Freedom and Security, welcomed the transmission of the Roadmap on visa liberalisation to Albanian Foreign Affairs Minister Lulzim Basha, today in a ceremony which took place in Brussels. The Roadmap gives clear indications to the Albanian authorities on the measures that need to be taken in order to grant visa free travel to all its citizens.

"I attach the greatest importance to facilitating people to people contacts in particular for the younger generation. I am convinced that easy travel conditions will increase mutual understanding and improve our relations in all fields. The roadmap on visa facilitation is certainly another important step towards the EU integration of Albania."

"Yet, the roadmap offers more advantages to the citizens of Albania" VP Barrot continued, "as it will encourage the country to continue implementing the relevant reforms and reinforcing cooperation at regional level and with the EU in areas such as strengthening the rule of law, fighting organised crime and corruption."

Since 1 January 2008, Albanian citizens enjoy the benefits of a visa facilitation agreement with the European Union. This agreement provides simplified procedures for issuing visas, including a visa fee waiver 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, businesspeople etc. Up to 50% of Albanian citizens can currently be exempt from the visa fee. People who pay for visas are charged the special reduced rate of 35 euros instead of 60 euros.

The EU sent another strong message of openness/encouragement to all citizens of Albania when on 28 January 2008 the General Affairs and External Relations Council 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. In March 2008, the dialogue on visa liberalisation with Albania was launched. The Roadmap presented officially today is a concrete step towards visa liberalisation.

The Roadmap follows a balanced approach setting benchmarks which are realistic and achievable. 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 also in the area of 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 eventually consider the possibility to present a proposal for the lifting of the visa obligation for citizens of Albania.

Background

In line with GAERC conclusions dated 28 January 2008, the Commission opened a structured dialogue on visa liberalisation with 5 Western Balkan countries (Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania) during the first months of 2008.

In its March 2008 Communication on the Western Balkans, the Commission stated that it will develop detailed roadmaps setting up clear benchmarks to be met in the coming years in order to advance towards visa liberalisation.

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 and fundamental rights 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 Albanian citizens.


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