Beyond Visa Facilitation: In Search of a Success Story

On 16 October 2007, AGENDA Institute in the framework of the project “What Albania and EU need to do to make a success of visa liberalization?”, with the support of The Balkan Trust for Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States of America, organized the workshop: “BEYOND VISA FACILITATION: IN SEARCH OF A SUCCESS STORY”.

The panelists of the workshop were Ambassador Helmuth Lohan, Head of the Delegation of the European Commission in Albania, Mr. Ilir Meta, Head of the Parliamentary Committee for European Integration, Mr. Gazmend Barbullushi, Director General of Consular Services and International Treaties in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Përparim Hoxha, Rector of the Polytechnic University of Tirana, Mr. Bojken Abazi, representative of MJAFT! Movement.

The workshop was opened and moderated by Mr. Ditmir Bushati, Director of Visa Liberalization Project, who briefly explained the main objectives of the project and the findings of the research carried out in Bulgaria, emphasizing the necessity for a clear political will in order to fulfill the obligations deriving from Visa Facilitation Agreement signed with European Communities, but also the need for a clear vision of Albanian authorities to work towards a visa free regime. Referring to the success story of Bulgaria and community assistance offered to Albania in the framework of CARDS Programme and of that expected one from IPA, Mr. Bushati proposed as a solution a “road map” for Western Balkan countries from EU in order to define the criteria that should be met in order to be on the white Schengen list.

Ambassador Helmuth Lohan, Head of the Delegation of the European Commission in Albania, during his speech was focused on the main aspects of Visa Facilitation Agreement and benefits for the categories included. At the same time, Ambassador Lohan touched upon the major challenges that lie ahead for a proper implementation of this Agreement. Considering the presence of different groups who benefit from the Visa Facilitation Agreement in this workshop, Ambassador Lohan called for a more proactive role of them in order to realize the European dream of the Albanian. In this transformation process of Albania nobody should take a passive role. On the contrary, it is necessary to strengthen citizen’s voice in the fulfillment of European standards from Albania, concluded Ambassador Lohan.

Mr. Meta, Head of the Parliamentary Committee for European Integration explained the role that his Committee will play in monitoring the implementation of the Visa Facilitation Agreement. During his speech, Mr. Meta brought to the attention of the participants the experience of the Protocol with Italy according to which a group from the civil servants, business community and academia get every year a long-term Schengen visa. Mr. Meta called for a more ambitious position of the Albanian Government in order to be focused on the obligations that should be fulfilled as the only way to advance in the EU integration process. Calling for a proactive role of the civil society in this process Mr. Meta expressed the readiness of his Committee for a mutual and opened cooperation.

Mr. Gazmend Barbullushi, Director General of Consular Affairs and International Treaties in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefly presented the Visa Facilitation Agreement and the path that should be followed from negotiation to the implementation of this Agreement. Mr. Barbullushi informed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is preparing to enter in an intensive dialogue with the categories that benefit from this Agreement. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also closely collaborate with the diplomatic corps of Schengen Embassies in Tirana, in order to improve the coordination for issues of a mutual importance. At the same time, Ministry of Foreign Affairs will publish an informative brochure about this Agreement.

Mr. Bojken Abazi, representative of MJAFT! Movement presented some of the findings of the MJAFT project “Return to Europe”, implemented with the support of the Balkan Trust for Democracy, where a group of 30 students were selected to visit some European capitals. Considering this project as a very positive experience, Mr. Abazi asked for Albanian students to move freely in the Schengen areas.

Mr. Përparim Hoxha, Rector of the Polytechnic University of Tirana, underlined the need for a visa free regime for academia, which would considerably help the research and teaching methods in the Albanian higher education system.

The workshop was followed with interest by printed and visual media. The participants in the workshop were representatives from central institutions, diplomatic corps in Albania, representatives from civil society, business community, media and students associations.

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