Thursday, November 8, 2007

Serbia Initials EU Association Agreement

Serbia, EU initial association agreement
7 November 2007 | 09:22 -> 15:28 | Source: B92, Beta
BRUSSELS -- The EU and Serbia have initialed the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA).

Deputy Prime Minister Božidar Đelić initialed the agreement on behalf of the government, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn on behalf of the EU at a ceremony this afternoon, that was also attended by President Boris Tadić.

Tadić said that the SAA was a major recognition of a European Serbia and proof that Serbia had the capacity to become a fully-fledged European country. He ad
ded that citizens would in future be able to build their lives according to European standards and values.

Đelić told B92 earlier that the initialing of the agreement would be a step towards Serbia’s candidacy for the EU.

“The initialing of the agreement and the signing of the Readmission Agreement are only the first steps towards our goal, which is to become an EU membership candidate by the end of next year,” Đelić said.

Rehn stressed that the initialing was Serbia’s first concrete step towards EU membership, and that it would give real economic benefits, stimulate investment,
create new jobs, and increase the security of its citizens.

The wording of the text was agreed upon in September, and Belgrade has been awaiting initialing since October, though this was postponed following a negative evaluation of cooperation between Serbia and the Hague Tribunal. A positive Hague evaluation was the main criterium for initialing, while full Hague cooperation remains the condition for the signing of the agreement.

Some more positive news for Serbia - this time coming from within the European Union. I personally want to see Serbia in the EU, I want to see all the countries of the Western Balkans within its borders. What we have at the moment is quite literally a Balkan ghetto in the middle of Europe. If you travel in any direction from Belgrade, Sarajevo, Zagreb, Skopje, Tirana, Pristina or Podgorica you will end up at a European Union border post. STOP! Unless, of course, you have that all so precious visa.

Having grown up in the United Kingdom, as a member of the EU, I've never had to think about visas when travelling to the continent. Spur of the moment decisions to go to Amsterdam, Paris, Dublin or even Prague for a w
eekend were common. All I had to do was book the plane ticket and turn up at the airport - a few hours later and I'm drinking coffee in the main square. Serbs, as well as the rest of the Balkan people, don't have this luxury. Without a visa they are confined to this little Balkan ghetto in the middle of Europe. Serbs cannot suddenly decide to go to Vienna or Budapest for a weekend break, oh no, it's just unthinkable. It takes at least a few weeks, perhaps even months of planning. Documentation is required - letters, hotel reservations, plane tickets, bank account statements, pay slips, photographs. Then there's the task of having to queue outside the embassies, early in the morning, for perhaps a number of hours - which I would classify as degrading if I were in their shoes.

There's no need for visas any more. Europe is OUR continent, not just for those with EU membership. Serbians, Bosnians, Macedonians etc should be free to travel just like the rest of us. They all have their own lives in their own countries - work, friends, family, homes - people don't generally just leave that all behind to escape to the golden EU. And those who do are more than likely already ille
gally in the EU (and will be returned under an agreement, which is a condition of this Association Pact). Is it so odd that a family from Macedonia or Montenegro just want to see the Eiffel Tower, Edinburgh Castle or the Colosseum? Why do they need to have some sort of conference to go to, or family to visit or a job to go to? Tourist visas need to be abolished, not just to be fair to the people of the Balkans but it might also, just perhaps, a tiny tiny little bit, remove some of that resentment many people here feel towards the EU.

Personally speaking with people I know in Serbia, they feel like second class European citizens. Put through the indignity of screening
procedures and personal questions just to go on a simple holiday or to visit friends or family. Having to take time off from work in order to queue and having to pay for a flight before they apply - and quite possibly not even getting a visa in the end.

Of course, there are reasons for these countries not being within the EU yet. I respect that and understand those reasons to some extent. B
ut it really is about time that the EU stopped treating the people of Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina as second class citizens - Croatians have visa free travel to the EU. Quite a number of South American countries (such as Brazil, Argentina, El Salvador) do not need visas to enter the EU, I have nothing against South Americans in the slightest, but is it not even a tiny bit unfair that some of our fellow European citizens need visas to travel around their own continent?

So next time you hop on a plane for a weekend b
reak, having just come into some money or just having decided on the spur of the moment, please don't take it for granted.


Visa 'horror' stories and more information here.

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