June 1996 - June 1997
the 6th Ministerial Session
Riga 2-3 July 1997
The Commissioner of the Council of the Baltic Sea States
on Democratic Institutions and Human Rights,
including the Rights of Persons belonging to Minorities
3.3. VISA FREE TRAVEL BETWEEN MEMBER COUNTRIES. READMISSION AGREEMENTS. ALIENS' PASSPORTS.
Visa free travel between member states
Bearing in mind the implementation of the action programme for the Baltic Sea States Cooperation of 1996 on increased people-to-people contacts, and the essential importance of free movement of all people and information throughout the region for the development of democratic societies, I have attempted to contribute to the abolishment of visa requirements between our countries where they are not imperative. Visa requirements often delay travel and cause bureaucratic obstacles for people-to-people contacts and necessitates administrative resources which could be better utilised elsewhere. I am convinced that the eventual abolishment of all visa requirements is a highly desirable development.
A precondition for lifting visa requirements is often the conclusion of readmission agreements. Another requirement has sometimes been the ratification and implementation of the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees.
During my visits to member countries I recommended, where this was topical, that readmission agreements be concluded with those countries which express a need of such an agreement. In this connection it should be mentioned that the Council of the European Union in its conclusions of November 23, 1995 (doc. 11955/1/95) has elaborated standard readmission clauses between member states of the Union and third countries. These standards can also be applied to bilateral agreements between CBSS member states.
I followed the situation regarding the requirements for travel within the CBSS member states and I note with appreciation that positive changes, in particular with regard to visa regimes, have taken place during the past year.
In 1997 Latvia has signed readmission agreements with Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland. Latvia and Norway have entered into negotiations on a bilateral readmission agreement.
In 1996 I communicated with the Danish Minister for the Interior, urging that Denmark bring its practice vis-a-vis Latvia in accordance with visa free regimes for Lithuania and Estonia. Danish visa requirements for Latvia were lifted on I January 1997. Since 21 April 1997, Latvia enjoys visa free regime with Iceland.
Agreements on visa free regimes with Sweden and Finland are being negotiated. To sign the agreement, Sweden requested the adoption of the Law on Refugees and the ratification of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees by Latvia. The Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs predicts that the agreements on visa free regimes with Sweden, Finland and Norway will be signed in 1997. The agreement on visa-free travel between Latvia and Finland was initialled on 14 May 1997 and is expected to be signed before the end of 1997.
An agreement on visa-free travel between Lithuania and Sweden was initialled on 14 May 1997. Lithuania fulfilled the conditions for abolishment of visa required by Sweden on 24 April 1997 when the Parliament ratified an agreement on readmission. Since 1 May 1997, Lithuania enjoys visa free regime with Sweden. Lithuania also enjoys visa free regime with Iceland. The agreement with Finland on visa free regime has being negotiated and is expected to be signed in 1997.
In 1997 Estonia signed agreements on visa free regimes with Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. It also signed the readmission agreements with these countries. Estonian citizens do not require visas for any Nordic country.
The existing situation with regard to visa requirements between the CBSS member states is as follows:
visa - requires visa
*97 - expected to have visa free regime in 1997
blank - visa free regime
As the issuance of aliens' passports is a very important issue in some of the CBSS countries, I followed development in this area. On several occasions I have emphasised that such passports should be recognized by other CBSS member states as soon as possible.
Estonia and Latvia
I was pleased to note that Estonia and Latvia which have a large number of non- citizens have been issuing aliens' passports during 1997. As the alien's passport is the only document allowing a stateless person to travel abroad, it is very important that it is recognized by other countries.
In May 1997 I was informed that not all CBSS member states had recognized the aliens' passports of Estonia and Latvia. Therefore, I wrote to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland expressing my hope that Iceland would recognize the aliens' passports of Estonia and Latvia, and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Poland expressing my hope that Poland would recognize the aliens' passports of Estonia. I learned in June 1997, that Iceland recognized the aliens' passports of Estonia and Latvia. Poland and Russia recognize the aliens' passports de facto, i.e. they are issuing visas for the aliens' passports.
I am also convinced that holders of aliens' passports should enjoy the same visa regime which is applied to holders of the national passports. I base my view on the consideration that non-citizens form large population groups permanently residing in some member states, and that they should as far as possible enjoy the same rights as citizens. In this respect, I have communicated with the Minister for the Interior of Denmark urging the lifting of visa requirements for holders of aliens' passports from Estonia and Latvia. On 16 May the Minister for the Interior decided to waive visa requirements for those holders of Latvian aliens' passports who are "citizens of tile former Soviet Union, resident in Latvia and registered in the "Residents' Register", who are not citizens of Latvia or any other country". I expect a similar decision with regard to Estonia in the near future.
I have communicated with the Minister for the Interior with regard to the practice of issuing Danish aliens' passports to non-citizens. As a rule, the alien's passport will be issued only if the person in question proves unable to obtain a passport of their own nationality. The administrative practice in this area is, in my opinion, unnecessarily restrictive. For instance, Turkish citizens residents in Denmark are denied an aliens' passports in situations where the Turkish authorities would only renew their national passports if they returned to perform military service in Turkey or paid a large sum of money. The same conditions are enforced if the persons wished to renounce their citizenship in order to apply for naturalization in Denmark.
In her reply, tile Minister for the Interior stated that the practice of issuing aliens' passports in this area was being reviewed, and that certain adjustments would be made to the effect that persons with permanent residence permits in Denmark would have easier access to aliens' passports. These adjustments have now been made.