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Interview: EU Urges Western Balkans, Eastern Partnership Countries To Speed Up Reforms

European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos (file photo)

BRUSSELS -- The European Union is urging Western Balkans countries and members of the Eastern Partnership program that have visa-free travel arrangements with the EU to do more to fight organized crime and corruption.

In an interview with RFE/RL on December 20, the European commissioner for home affairs, Dmitris Avramopoulos, singled out Ukraine and Moldova in particular as countries that need to speed up reforms.

He said all the countries concerned need to "step up their efforts to address irregular migration and fight organized crime and corruption in particular."

Avramopoulos spoke as the European Commission published a report on how Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Ukraine implement their visa-free regimes with the EU as well as rule-of-law reforms.

It is the first such annual report since the EU adopted a visa suspension mechanism and since visa-liberalization deals enabling Georgian and Ukrainian citizens to travel freely to the visa-free Schengen area came into force earlier in 2017.

The visa-suspension mechanism allows for visa-free regimes to be halted under certain circumstances once they are in place. It was drafted as a condition for the implementation of visa-liberalization agreements for non-EU countries.

'Two To Tango'

Avramopoulos said that "no visa-free suspension is being decided or proposed today," but added that the council expects all the countries to "step up their efforts to address irregular migration and fight organized crime and corruption in particular."

The commissioner called on Kyiv to "take immediate action to safeguard anticorruption measures introduced with previous reforms and to allow further progress to be made."

The report criticizes Moldova, which was granted EU visa liberalization in 2014, over evidence of corruption and money laundering.

Asked whether Ukrainians and Moldovans should worry that visa-free EU travel could be suspended, Avramopoulos said "it is not within our intention so the question should be asked to the citizens of these countries if they really want to defend these privileges and this right. It is up to them."

"As far as the European Union is concerned, we are very positive to continue on the same path but as you understand, it takes two to tango," he added.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.