Germany leads objections to visa-free travel to Balkans and East

Illegal stay and unfounded asylum claims from some states in the Western Balkans, as well as Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, are triggering talks on the suspension of visa-free travel to the EU.

The EU’s internal document, dated September 27 and seen by EUobserver, comes a day before European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s tour of the Western Balkans, itself ahead of a Balkan summit and a separate summit in Ukraine later this month.

  • Screenshot of the EU internal document (Photo: EUobserver)

Frustration appears to be mounting in France, Germany and Italy, amid a larger discussion on stopping the alleged abuses.

People from Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia have been allowed to travel to the EU visa-free for up to 90 days since December 2009. This was followed in 2010 by Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova in 2014, and Georgia and Ukraine in 2017.

Visa-free travel is considered by the European Commission to be an “important achievement” in relations between the EU and the Western Balkans and the former Soviet states as part of its “Eastern Partnership” policy.

But not everyone is happy, as the threat of the so-called “visa suspension mechanism” is currently the subject of active discussion.

A more than 50% increase in irregular stays, or asylum seekers with low recognition rates, is needed for visas to be re-imposed.

Countries that refuse to take back their nationals may also see the return of visas.

In the document, Germany took umbrage at Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. He also criticized Albania and Serbia for being among the 10 problem countries.

It has recorded spikes in “unauthorized residence offenses” in Albania, Moldova and Ukraine – despite an overall decline last year due to the pandemic.

He also cited a 51% increase in Georgian asylum claims in the past three months, compared to the same period in 2019.

Moldova recorded a jump of 429% between June and August 2019 and from June to August 2021, according to the statement.

“In the event of little or no improvement from third countries, COM [European Commission] should, in our opinion, stress that the triggering of the visa suspension mechanism is a real option, ”the German delegation said in the document.

Italy made similar comments on Moldova, noting that human trafficking networks operating across “neighboring countries” abused visa-free travel.

Rome then launched the idea of ​​depriving Moldova of the visa exemption “in case of insufficient progress”.

France was also unhappy with Albania and Georgia and distrusted the Serbs.

The Czech Republic said it has seen a high number of unfounded asylum claims from Georgian, Moldovan and Ukrainian nationals.

“In total, visa-free nationals account for 47.4% of all asylum applications this year (an increase from 38.5% in 2016),” the Czechs said, also noting an increase in “illegal residence “.

For its part, Belgium described the number of asylum requests from Moldova in 2021 as “an alarming increase”.

“We also have relatively high figures for North Macedonia, but it could be a temporary ‘summer phenomenon’,” he said.

The Netherlands is the first and only state in the EU to have requested visa-free suspension so far.

But his claim, against Albania in 2019, was rejected by the European Commission.

Africa, Asia, Middle East

The committee has since called on the Council, representing member states, to impose visa restrictions on Bangladesh, Iraq and The Gambia for not having their nationals taken back.

It also comes as France announced on Tuesday a sharp reduction in the number of visas granted to people from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

“It is a drastic decision, and unprecedented, but made necessary by the fact that these countries refuse to take back nationals that we do not want or cannot keep in France,” said French government spokesman Gabriel Attal on radio Europe 1.

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