Op-Ed by Commissioner Avramopoulos on Western Balkans

We all want a secure, prosperous, free and mobile Europe

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.

The first round of negotiations for a status agreement between the European Union and Bosnia and Herzegovina on actions carried out by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency on 9 July has been very constructive. The parties discussed the whole agreement and found common ground for all major issues. Once this agreement is reached and finalised, border guards deployed at your borders will be entitled to perform border checks at border crossing points together with your national border guards. They will also patrol along the border for border surveillance, and technical equipment could also be used. This agreement will bring significant added value in terms of both strengthening border management and combating irregular migration and smuggling of migrants through the region. In particular in the current context, with an increase in irregular arrivals and border crossings to Bosnia and Herzegovina, this will be an important tool to stem irregular movements. More importantly, this type of agreement is 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. The European Commission continues to stand by Bosnia and Herzegovina, both financially and operationally. This is a shared challenge that needs to be addressed together.

Stronger border management goes hand in hand with another key element of our cooperation: visa-free mobility. I have always said that I hope we are very close to having a visa free regime with the entire region very soon. Visa free means a lot to all our citizens, to bringing them closer professionally, economically, culturally. 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 jeopardize 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. We will continue to monitor, also through the visa suspension mechanism, and support Bosnia and Herzegovina, 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.

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 Sarajevo, 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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