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Brussels, 30th November 2009

Visa free travel for citizens of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia before Christmas

The EU decided today that the citizens of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia will be able to travel without visa to the Schengen area as of 19 December 2009.

The EU Member States adopted today a decision allowing citizens of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia to travel to all countries of the Schengen area without visa. They will be able to do so before Christmas, as of 19 December 2009.

Vice President Jacques Barrot underlined the political importance of this decision for the mobility of the citizens of the three countries concerned; he emphasized the reforms put in place during the last two years by the countries, which covered the main areas of Justice, Freedom and Security. " By simplifying the mobility of the citizens of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, the EU will further foster the contacts between the Union and these countries and open a new era in our cooperation," said the Vice President.

" Today's decision reflects the clear European perspective of the Western Balkan countries and is the result of the hard work of the countries concerned to meet the requirements for visa liberalisation," said Olli Rehn, the Commissioner for Enlargement.

The new visa free regime will apply to all holders of biometric passports, who can now travel to the Schengen area for up to 90 days per six-month period. The Schengen area is made up of 28 European countries – all EU Member States except the UK and Ireland, as well as three non-EU members, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Persons who do not hold a biometric passport and the residents of Kosovo holding a Serbian passport issued by the Coordination Directorate in Belgrade will still need a visa. The same goes for the persons who intend to work during a short stay or who want to come for more than 90 days; they need visas and work permits.

The European Commission started the visa liberalisation dialogue in early 2008 with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Centrepieces of the dialogue have been the European Commissions roadmaps, setting out the conditions that each country had to meet. In July 2009 the European Commission proposed lifting the visa obligation for the first three countries. The European Parliament gave a positive opinion in November 2009.

Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are also covered by the visa dialogue, are not included in today's decision, as the latest assessment of the Commission showed that they did not yet meet all the requirements. The Commission has intensified its assistance to both countries in implementing the necessary reforms. A new evaluation will be made during the period of December 2009 to February 2010. As soon as the two countries achieve the necessary progress in implementing the roadmaps, the Commission will be ready to propose visa free travel for their citizens.

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