Wien, 5. December 2006 Press release

Plassnik: "Feeling of isolation in the Balkans to be reduced step by step"

05.12.2006

Foreign Minister on amendment of Consular Fees Act by the Council of Ministers

Vienna, 5 December 2006 - "The exemption from the increase in visa fees is an important signal for the Balkan states’ process of rapprochement with the EU," emphasised Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik today following the decision by the Ministerial Council to amend the Consular Fees Act. The amendment serves to implement a EU decision providing for an increase in Schengen visa fees from 35 euros to 60 euros.

"With this measure we are making an important contribution to maintaining the options open for our south-eastern neighbours to travel to the Schengen area. At the same time we are trying to make procedures simpler, starting with certain groups of persons," continued Plassnik, referring to the EU foreign ministers’ decision of 13 November to start negotiations on visa regime simplification and repatriation agreements with the Balkan countries. "The conclusion of such agreements will facilitate contacts without compromising the security aspect. We have to gradually counteract the growing feeling of practical isolation in the Balkans, without losing a sense of proportion while keeping in mind what is feasible," Plassnik continued.

Apart from general exemptions from visa fees for certain groups such as minors, schoolchildren, students or researchers, visa facilitation agreements are to be concluded with the states that have a European perspective, i.e. with the countries of the Western Balkans. Until such agreements are concluded, i.e. by 1 January 2008, visa fees will not be increased for these countries. Subsequently, the agreement itself will set forth a solution regarding the amount of the visa fees.

"Our citizens’ desire for increased security is accommodated by a visa system with biometric features. Increased security standards do not, of course, come free, and the additional costs will have to be covered by the visa fees. At the same time, however, we do not want to place a burden on our immediate neighbouring states and partners in South-Eastern Europe," said Plassnik.

The Council of Ministers also adopted an agreement with Macedonia on the lifting of the visa requirement for holders of diplomatic and service passports. "This will facilitate contacts by government officials already prior to the entry into force of an agreement at EU level. Particularly in view of Macedonia’s process of rapprochement with the EU, this is a small but concrete step to intensify contacts and exchanges between Austria and Macedonia," concluded Plassnik.

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