By: Dimitris Avramopoulos , European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs
The last few years have increasingly brought the European Union and the Western Balkans closer together, deepening longstanding ties and relationships across our European continent. On the one hand, the ongoing migratory and security challenges have demonstrated that they can only be tackled through a joint and cross-border approach, and the Western Balkans have been and continue to be quintessential partners in this endeavour. On the other hand, the European path has once again proven to be the only viable destiny for the Western Balkans – as also reinforced by the EU’s Western Balkan Strategy and enlargement perspective.
Today we are at the start of another important chapter in our shared history, particularly when it comes to mobility and migration – and managing this together.
After many years and months of efforts and hard work, the Commission now confirms that Kosovo has fulfilled all the benchmarks for visa liberalisation. We now encourage the Council and the European Parliament to make headway on our proposal. I truly hope we are very close to having a visa free regime with the entire region very soon. This will be a milestone for Kosovo and its citizens, facilitating travel, tourism and business relations between the EU and Kosovo even more. At the same time, visa free travel comes with both rights and responsibilities – and once it is obtained, everyone must make sure that all benchmarks remain fulfilled and that there are no abuses or developments to jeopardise this great achievement. The recently approved European travel Information and Authorisation System will also contribute to safeguarding visa-free travel for bonafide travellers, and detecting those that pose a threat or an irregular migration risk before they even travel. Once visa liberalisation is granted and in place, we will continue to monitor, also through the visa suspension mechanism, and support Kosovo, as well as all Western Balkans partners in this endeavour. More generally, in order to ensure a safe and secure migration management, we need to be fully coordinated in our approach. In this regard, the alignment of the visa policy of the Western Balkan partners with the EU acquis will further contribute to reduce migratory and security risks.
At the same time, mobility goes hand in hand with well-managed borders. This is why we have launched negotiations on status agreements with the European Border and Coast Guard in the Western Balkan Region, which are progressing well. Kosovo already has an important operational agreement with the European Border and Coast Guard. The status agreements between the European Union and the Western Balkan partners on actions carried out by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency will allow for the deployment of European Border and Coast Guard teams with executive powers in the region, along the common external borders with the neighbouring EU Member States, and ensure a structural operational cooperation and better management of irregular migration in the future.
These agreements are an instrument that shows preparedness for larger challenges in the future and it marks the next step in cooperation with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency- an important step forward and in the best interest of both the Western Balkan countries and the European Union.
Now more than ever, the EU and the Western Balkans are solidifying their common history, building towards an even more shared and prosperous future. Intensified cooperation on migration, mobility, borders as well as on countering terrorism and fighting organised crime will be the essential parameters of a partnership that is much wider and much deeper. Citizens in Pristina, in Vienna, or Brussels all want the same thing: a secure, prosperous, free and mobile Europe. Only by coming closer, politically, operationally, and in the future once everything has advanced properly also institutionally, can we deliver this to our citizens.
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