The EU toughens its visa free regime with the Western Balkans

Brussels | Tirana Echo – A new mechanism for suspension of visas with countries of the Western Balkans has been introduced by the European Union which may make travel of people from Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia much harder in the near future.

The European Commission has said that “new grounds for visa suspension have been introduced and others have been extended, notably a decrease in cooperation on readmission, including for third-country nationals having transited through the third country concerned, as well as a substantial increase in risks to the public policy or internal security of Member States“.

The initiative to trigger the mechanism, which previously belonged to any EU member state, has now also been given to the European Commission, which could also penalize third countries which have gone through a visa liberalization dialogue, notably Balkans countries, on the ground that their citizens have not fulfilled the visa free regime criteria.

However, member states retain the monopoly of decision making. According to the new rules, member states can trigger the mechanism by sending a notification to the Commission if there is a substantial increase (more than 50%) in irregular migration, a substantial increase (more than 50%) in asylum applications with low recognition rate (around 3-4%), a decrease in cooperation on readmission, and the EU country decided there is an  increased risk to its security, in particular serious criminal offenses.

The latest rules indicate the EU is taking measures against countries which violate the rules of the visa free regime, with a particular focus on the Western Balkans which is a worrying source of increased influx of emigrants and asylum seekers. In 2015 asylum applications from Kosovo, Albania, Serbia and Macedonia saw a dramatic increase, which prompted EU countries calling into question the entire Schengen scheme and its visa free regime with third countries.

The visa suspension mechanism was first introduced as part of the EU visa policy in 2013 in order to provide for the possibility to temporarily suspend the visa exemption for the nationals of a third country for a short period of time in case of a substantial increase in irregular migration.

In May 2016, the Commission proposed to revise the existing rules in order to further strengthen this mechanism. The new measures will allow the European Union to react much more quickly and in a more flexible manner if faced by strong migratory pressure or an increase in risk to the internal security of Member States that may arise from visa-free travel.

The latest measures also affect citizens of Turkey as well as those coming from countries outside the European space.

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