Western Balkan countries, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine continue to meet the visa liberalisation requirements and made progress in addressing last year’s recommendations. That is the conclusion of the 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 highlights areas where further efforts are needed from each country. It also states that visa-free movement continues to bring positive economic, social and cultural benefits to EU Member States and partner countries, the European Commission said in a statement.
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 less than 7 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.
“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 organised crime,” Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said.
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, the EC stressed.
According to the report, the Frontex status agreements with North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina should be swiftly finalised and implemented.
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 EC stated.
The monitoring report also says that 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.
The countries should take action to effectively fight against organised crime, financial fraud and money laundering, especially through better coordination between law enforcement agencies. 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, the EC emphasized.
The Commission said it 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.