We, the undersigned citizens, are urging the governments of the Western Balkans’ countries and the European Union (EU) Member State leaders to act swiftly in abolishing the visa regimes and establishing the freedom of movement for all Western Balkan citizens travelling within the region and throughout the Schengen Area.
The existing barriers to freedom of movement within the region and throughout the Schengen Area have been breaking family ties, harming businesses, inhibiting student and academic exchange, and preventing regional cooperation and development.
The movement of Western Balkans' citizens inside the region continues to be challenging due to passport restrictions, as in the case of travelling between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Governments need to understand that roads, tunnels and railways will not serve the Western Balkan countries fully unless provisions are facilitating the free movement of people inside the region.
Similarly, opportunities for the Western Balkans' citizens are much more limited when it comes to contributing to and benefiting from regional projects but also to larger EU programs which have proven to be beneficial for students, researchers and young entrepreneurs - such as the Erasmus+ Program, which has been offering life-changing experiences to EU citizens for more than three decades. When such opportunities are present, they tend to be available only to people in the Western Balkan region whose passport allows them to travel more easily, without going through the lengthy and costly procedures of acquiring a Schengen visa.
Visa liberalisation benefiting the five Western Balkan countries since 2009 has been the biggest incentive to the economic development of the region. After the introduction of visa liberalisation for the Western Balkans, the trade of the region with the EU increased almost two and a half times.
However, citizens of Kosovo remain the only ones in the region that need a visa to travel to the Schengen Area. Despite the fact that in 2018, the European Commission confirmed that Kosovo had fulfilled all the benchmarks of the visa liberalisation roadmap, and the European Parliament has voted in favour of the Commission’s proposal, the latter is still pending in the European Council.
The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia should work together to urgently resolve visa regimes and passport restrictions. The EU should take a responsible role and preserve its credibility in the region by delivering on its promises given to Kosovo citizens and grant visa liberalisation to Kosovo this year.
By granting visa liberalization to all citizens of the Western Balkan region, the EU would be fulfilling its promise, and delivering on its core value - the freedom of movement.
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