High-level corruption remains an issue in the Western Balkans and three Eastern Partnership countries. Moldova and Ukraine have notably suffered from high profile banking frauds, with little progress in the prosecution of those involved and in the recovery of the stolen assets. In Moldova, important actions have been undertaken, but these efforts need to be fully implemented and sustained. In Ukraine, it is important to safeguard and further strengthen the independence of anti-corruption institutions, including by guaranteeing non-political and merit-based appointment procedures for leadership positions. EU support will continue to be conditional and will be linked to concrete progress in the reform agenda and in particular in the fields of anti-corruption and justice, says the European Commission’s report on the assessment of the fulfillment of the visa liberalization requirements by the Western Balkans and by three Eastern Partnership countries, which is quoted by IPN.
Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the visa liberalization process is a powerful tool to advance transformative reforms, including in the area of justice and security. It fosters people-to-people contacts and strengthens the ties between the EU and the citizens of Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries. “Over the years, we have seen significant progress by the visa-free partners that reinforces our bonds. Continuous efforts are needed to preserve these achievements,” stated the official.
The report says all countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, and also Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) continued to take measures to prevent and fight against organized crime, including through operational cooperation with Member States’ law enforcement authorities. However, further efforts are needed to address security concerns due to crime-related challenges.
According to the European Commission’s report, all countries assessed continue to take measures to address irregular migration and border protection challenges. Coordination between border authorities and cooperation on readmission and return with all Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries remains positive. The overwhelming majority of citizens from the visa-free countries are bona fide travellers with legitimate grounds to travel to the EU. However, further efforts are needed to address ongoing concerns, including through targeted information campaigns on the rights and obligations of visa-free travel.
The report follows up on the Commission’s obligation under the Strengthened Visa Suspension Mechanism, adopted in March 2017, to monitor the continuous fulfillment of visa liberalization requirements by third countries and to report to the European Parliament and the Council at least once a year. The current report is the third under the Visa Suspension Mechanism, following the First Visa Suspension Mechanism Report of December 2017 and Second Visa Suspension Mechanism Report issued in December 2018. Data from this report relates to the 2019 calendar year and first half of 2020.
Overall, the visa-free travel scheme has fulfilled its purpose: it has strengthened people-to-people contact between the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries and the EU, including with diaspora communities in the Member States, enhanced business opportunities and cultural exchanges, and enabled the visa-free countries’ citizens to get to know the EU better.
Visa-free travel for citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia has been in place since December 2009. For citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, visa-free travel is possible since the end of 2010. For Moldova visa-free travel entered into force in April 2014, for Georgia in March 2017 and for Ukraine in June 2017.