Communication from the commission to the european parliament and the council




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EN



COMMISSION OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES

Brussels, 5.3.2008

SEC(2008) 288



COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT

accompanying the

COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION
TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL


Western Balkans: Enhancing the European perspective

{COM(2008) 127 final}

This Annex outlines EU activities of regional relevance to the Western Balkan countries and corresponding regional activities related to the European agenda of the Western Balkans. It includes items mentioned in the Commission’s January 2006 Communication on the Western Balkans1, along with others initiated later. It covers the period since the EU-Western Balkans Forum in Salzburg in March 2006 and also lists the next steps planned.

No

Action

State of play (progress achieved and next steps planned)

1. Moving closer towards the EU and enhancing regional cooperation

1.01

Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs)2

Albania: The SAA was signed on 12.6.20063. The Interim Agreement entered into force on 1.12.20064.

Montenegro: The SAA was signed on 15.10.20075. The Interim Agreement entered into force on 1.1.20086.

Serbia: The SAA was initialled on 7.11.2007. Full cooperation with the ICTY remains a condition for signing the Agreement.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: The SAA was initialled on 4.12.2007. Fulfilment of political conditions remains a prerequisite for signing.

1.02

EU-WB forum7

The Foreign Affairs EU-WB ministerial forum was held on 12.2.2007 in Brussels. The next forum will be held on 28-29.3.2008 in Brdo (Slovenia).

Justice and Home Affairs EU-WB ministerial fora were held on 17.11.2006 in Tirana and on 4-5.10.2007 in Brdo (Slovenia). The next will be held on 6-7.11.2008 in Croatia.

1.03

Refugee return: Sarajevo process

The Sarajevo Declaration (or “3x4 Initiative”) signed in January 2005 by the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro provides the main policy framework aiming to bring about a genuine and successful solution to problems faced by refugees in South East Europe. The signatories agreed to achieve this goal by the end of 2006.

A ministerial meeting in Sarajevo in March 2006 left a number of issues open. Joint EC/UNHCR/OSCE letters of March 2006 to the relevant governments (Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina) expressed concern. Following subsequent meetings, two main outstanding issues remain: how to deal with compensation claims from those who lost occupancy and tenancy rights (OTRs) in Croatia and recognition of pensions and other rights for the years spent working in Serb-controlled areas of Croatia during the war. The concluding ministerial meeting originally planned for the end of 2006 was postponed. A task force met at senior official level in Sarajevo in October 2007. However, it has still not been possible to make any substantial progress on the two main remaining issues.

A ministerial meeting is due to be held in 2008. The governments of the 3x4 Initiative, together with international organisations which have supported the process, will discuss the state of play with implementation of the Declaration and the prospects for future assistance.

Support for the Sarajevo process provided from the CARDS 2006 regional programme (€1.0 million)8 will continue under IPA 2008 regional and horizontal programmes to be adopted in 2008.

1.04

Stability Pact transition

Transition from the Stability Pact to a more regionally-owned cooperation framework has been largely completed. The cooperation will continue under the political guidance of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP). The newly established Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) will pursue work in the following areas: economic and social development; infrastructure; justice and home affairs; security co-operation; human resources development, and parliamentary co-operation.

Following a report by a Senior Review Group (the Rusi Group) on the Stability Pact (March 2006)9, the Commission and the Stability Pact presented a joint proposal on a transition to a more regionally owned cooperation framework (April 2006)10. The Stability Pact Regional Table in May 2006 adopted a transition road-map aiming at termination of the Stability Pact in early 2008 and at establishment of the new Regional Cooperation Council (RCC)11.

The Zagreb Summit of the SEECP in May 2007, under the Croatian Chairmanship-in-Office (CiO), took decisions on setting up the new framework, in particular on: 1) the mandate of the RCC; 2) amendment of the SEECP Charter; 3) appointment of the RCC Secretary-General (Mr H. Biščević); 4) designation of the seat of the RCC Secretariat (Sarajevo); and 5) budgetary resources for the RCC Secretariat (the EU, region and other donors to provide €1 million each per annum).

Under the Bulgarian SEECP CiO (starting in May 2007), a Host Country Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina on the RCC Secretariat was signed on 14.9.2007. Subsequently, the budget and organisation chart for the Secretariat were approved, followed by staff recruitment. The Commission has provided financing to the Stability Pact to assist the RCC SG with setting up the Secretariat12.The Secretariat started operations in January 2008.

Two informal meetings of the RCC Board were held in 2007: on 9.10.2007 (Sarajevo) and on 28.11.2007 (Brussels). RCC Board members discussed the Headquarters Agreement with Belgium on establishment of the Brussels liaison office, the MoU on establishment of the RCC and the contractual and financial arrangements for the RCC Secretariat.

Work on streamlining Stability Pact initiatives continued, in line with the conclusions of the report of the Special Coordinator of the Stability Pact (SCSP) presented at the Zagreb Regional Table on 10.5.2007. An overview of the existing regional projects, task forces and initiatives was provided at the latest meeting of the Stability Pact Working Tables on 3-4.12.2007 in Tirana, where participants decided that the RCC would continue with a streamlined set of initiatives.

The hand-over from the SCSP to the RCC SG, along with the last meeting of the SP Regional Table and the first meeting of the RCC, took place on 27.2.2008 in Sofia. The mandate of the SCSP has been extended until 30.6.2008 to ensure a smooth transition to the new framework13.

The Commission takes part in the work of the RCC Board, provides financial support for the Secretariat and is continuing to finance some of the initiatives established under the Stability Pact. It also plays an active role in donor coordination and maintaining close contact with the RCC SG and the RCC liaison office to be set up in Brussels.

2. People-to-people contacts; familiarising people with the EU

2.01

Visas: Council conclusions

In its conclusions of 18/6/2007 the Council underlined that the visa facilitation and readmission agreements (see item 2.02) will promote people-to-people contacts between the EU and the Western Balkan countries and increase opportunities for travelling, especially for the younger generation. Recalling the Thessaloniki Agenda, the Council acknowledged the importance the people of the Western Balkans attach to the perspective of visa-free movement. In this respect, it welcomed the efforts of the Commission to take these issues forward in concrete terms14.

In its conclusions of 10/12/2007 the Council invited the Commission to further explore possibilities to promote people-to-people contacts. Recalling its conclusions of 18.6.2007, the Council expressed its readiness to hold a discussion during the first half of 2008 on these issues, based on the Commission’s Communication, as well as on Member States’ contributions15.

In its Conclusions of 28/1/2008,, the Council welcomed the intention of the Commission to launch soon a visa dialogue with all the countries in the region and expressed its readiness to further discuss this issue, based on the Commission's forthcoming Communication on the Western Balkans, with a view to define detailed roadmaps setting clear benchmarks to be met by all the countries in the region in order to gradually advance towards visa liberalisation. This would enable the Council and the Commission to closely monitor progress in necessary reforms16.

2.02

Visa facilitation and readmission agreements

Visa facilitation and readmission agreements were signed between the EU and Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia on 18/9/2007 and entered into force on 1/1/200817. The visa facilitation agreements will make it easier to issue short-term visas for citizens of the Western Balkan countries and introduce a reduced fee of €35 for visa applications18. The agreements set time-limits for issuing a visa (normally 10 days). They simplify the requirements on documents to support visa applications for certain categories of persons and also clarify the criteria for issuing multi-entry visas valid for one or more years.

Each visa facilitation agreement provides for the establishment of a joint committee to monitor implementation. The committee will bring together the Commission and representatives of the authorities of the Western Balkan country concerned. The first meetings of the committees are due to be held during the first half of 2008. Their purpose is to take stock of the first months of implementation of the agreements.

The readmission agreements set out the reciprocal rules and procedures under which nationals of the contracting parties as well as (under certain conditions) third country nationals who illegally stay on the territory of one contracting party may be readmitted to the territory of the other contracting party. The agreements regulate also the issue of transit for readmission purposes through the territory of contracting parties.

2.03

Visa liberalisation dialogue (see also item 2.01)

In line with the Council conclusions of 18/6/2007 (see item 2.01), the Commission’s 2007 strategy paper stated that it was now time gradually to move towards visa liberalisation with the Western Balkan countries by taking further concrete/practical steps.

To that end, the Commission started a visa liberalisation dialogue with Serbia in January and with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro in February 2008. The dialogue with Albania will start in early March and Bosnia and Herzegovina will follow. Within this framework detailed road-maps will be drawn up by the Commission in consultation with the Council. The Western Balkan countries will provide input in this context. The road-maps will outline conditions for lifting visa obligation and will cover four sets of issues: document security, illegal migration, including readmission, public order and security, as well as external relations. The road-maps will be tailor-made to allow each country to focus reform efforts and address the EU's requirements. The Commission's intention is to finalise the roadmaps as soon as possible after the launching of each dialogue, in order for the necessary reforms to start being implemented promptly.

The speed of movement towards visa liberalisation will depend on each country's progress in fulfilling the benchmarks. For the whole process, the countries' capacity to ensure correct and effective implementation of the visa facilitation and readmission agreements will also be taken into consideration. The Commission will provide financial and technical assistance to support implementation of the road-maps.

The Commission and the Council will closely monitor progress in the relevant reforms. Once the conditions for each country have been fulfilled, the Commission will propose to the Council the lifting of the respective visa obligation, by amending Council Regulation 539/200119.

2.04


Improving visa-issuing procedures at local consulates


A Commission proposal for a Regulation establishing a Community Code on Visas was transmitted to the Council and the European Parliament in July 200620. The Code will increase transparency and legal certainty in visa application procedures. It is now being discussed in the Council and Parliament.

Another Commission proposal for a Regulation provides for changes in visa application procedures that will allow Member States to simplify the reception and processing of visa applications21.

2.05

Facilitation of entry for studies and pupil exchange

Council Directive 2004/114/EC. The deadline for transposition by Member States was 12.1.2007. To date, 18 Member States have notified full transposition22.

2.06

Admission for purposes of scientific research

Council Directive 2005/71/EC. The deadline for transposition by Member States was 12.10.2007. By 26.2.2008, 13 Member States had fully complied with the Directive and another four had notified partial implementation23.

Two recommendations on admission and on issuing short-term visas for researchers have not yet had any significant impact on administrative procedures24.

2.07

Local border traffic regime

The Regulation on a local border traffic regime was adopted on 20.12.200625. It creates a framework for conclusion of bilateral agreements between bordering Member States and the Western Balkan countries.

Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary have expressed willingness to conclude bilateral local border traffic agreements with Serbia. Bulgaria has expressed a similar willingness to conclude an agreement with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Political declarations to that effect were annexed to the relevant visa facilitation agreements.

An agreement between Serbia and Bulgaria on border control and procedures in railway transport, signed on 15.4.2005, entered into force in 2006.

2.08

Scholarships/Erasmus Mundus



The December 2006 European Council underlined the desirability of promoting people-to-people contacts by also making available more scholarships for the students of the Western Balkans region26. This statement was reiterated by the June 2007 Council27.

In addition to the general possibilities offered to the students from all the third countries under the Erasmus Mundus Programme, the Commission has been offering through the pre-accession instrument an increasing number of scholarships specifically for students from the Western Balkans:

Funds have been allocated to grant up to 100 scholarships for postgraduate students from the Western Balkans each year to follow Erasmus Mundus master courses, starting in the academic year 2007-08 (“Western Balkans window”):

  • academic year 2007-08: the Decision adopted on 14.12.2006 (CARDS 2006, €4 million)28 covers Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo.

  • academic year 2008-09: the Decision adopted on 5.11.2007 (IPA 2007, €4 million)29 extended eligibility to Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Exchanges of up to 500 undergraduate and graduate students, doctoral and post-doctoral candidates and academic staff between the EU and the Western Balkans countries were decided (as part of a wider scholarship initiative, the “Erasmus Mundus – External cooperation window”).

  • academic year 2008-09: the Decision was adopted on 5.11.2007 (€6 million under IPA 2007 national programmes)30; Croatia opted out.

Following the Council Conclusions (GAERC) of 28.1.2008, the Commission intends to double the annual allocation for scholarships (€10 million x 2) under IPA 2008 which would enable several hundred additional students to receive a scholarship as of the academic year 2009/2010.

On 12.7.2007, the Commission adopted a proposal for the second phase of Erasmus Mundus (2009-2013), including a wide scholarship scheme, also covering the Western Balkans31. The new programme (Erasmus Mundus II) will be adopted in 2008.

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