What does the Dutch request to the European Commission over Albania mean for Georgia?
The Dutch government has decided to request the European Commission to suspend visa-free movement for Albanians, who enjoyed this since 2010. The decision comes after a group of four Dutch MPs submitted a motion to temporarily cancel visa-free traveling for Albanian nationals in the Schengen Zone, which was backed by the Dutch Parliament. Can this decision of the Dutch government influence Georgia’s visa free travel to the Schengen Zone and the challenges it faces?
Since spring 2017 Georgians also enjoy visa free travel to the EU Schengen Zone. This was initially delayed for a year due to the demand of some EU member states to revise the suspension mechanism before allowing more countries to the visa free regime, driven by fears of immigration and visa waiver abuse.
The revision, finalized in winter 2017, extended grounds for triggering the suspension mechanism, arranging a faster procedure with shorter deadlines. With the recurring debates about the risk of visa-waiver suspension for Georgia it is important to keep the criteria in mind: 1) decreased cooperation on readmission; 2) substantial increase in the refusal rate of readmission applications and 3) a substantial increase in the risk to public policy or the internal security of the member states.
Case of Albania and Netherlands
The parliamentary debate which preluded the aforementioned motion was initially requested by the governing Christian Democrats (CDA) party in November 2017, demanding an end to visa-free travel. The actual debate last April coincided with a polarized environment towards the European elections with centre-right parties trying to fend off anti-immigrant populists with populism.
The MPs based their motion on a persistent problem in Netherlands with Albanian organized crime gangs, and increasing numbers of Albanians trying to get in trucks crossing by ferry to the UK. They allege Albanian organized crime has expanded over the years, not only in Netherlands but in West-Europe in general, claiming “more than 6 times the registered Albanians” reside in Netherlands by overstaying on tourist visa waivers to pursue criminal activities.
The police of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, which asked to suspend visa free travel since 2017, complain about the ruthless and violent methods of the Albanian gangs involved in the hard drugs scene (cocaine) perpetuating the image of Netherlands as “narco-state” as some MPs phrased it.
Opposing MPs noted arrested Albanians mostly use fake EU passports, rendering the suspension mechanism ineffective. Albanian organized crime problems predate the visa free regime: visa restrictions won’t prevent cross-border criminal activity. This can only be tackled with more European cooperation, including with the Albanian authorities, according to the governing liberal D66 party:
“.. the solution lies mainly in cooperation in Europe. I think we need to work well with the Albanians, exchange information, and prevent all kinds of people who we already know have wrong intentions from coming here in all sorts of ways. And if they do, it must be tackled in collaboration. I believe that yesterday or the day before yesterday there was a large coordinated Europol campaign in which many people of possible Albanian descent were arrested in Belgium. I think that is the solution.”