The Dutch government has asked the European Commission to suspend free movement of Albanians in the EU for a period of 9 months due to “problems faced in relation to Albanian nationals”.
Following a parliamentary debate on Albanian organised crime in the Netherlands that took place on 11 April, a motion was passed to request the government to notify the commission of their concerns regarding the “increased activity of Albanian criminal networks in the Netherlands”.
Prime Minister Edi Rama and his cabinet members had previously maintained that the debate and motion were due to political motivations in the run up to the European Parliament elections, and that the Dutch government would not ask the EC to suspend the visa-free regime for Albanians. However, the request was actually made, and almost one week after the European elections.
Today, concerns were presented to the European Commission in a letter, signed by the Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the EU, Robert de Groot. It calls upon the Commission to decide, in consultation with other EU Member States, whether a suspension of visa-free travel is applicable under Regulation 2018/1806 Article 8(6a).
A number of issues under European law were highlighted including an “increased or imminent threat to the public policy or internal security of Member States, in particular a substantial increase in serious criminal offences linked to the nationals of that third country nationals” and a “substantial increase in the number of nationals…found to be staying in the Member State’s territory without a right to do so.”
Other concerns include “a substantial increase in the number of asylum applications from the nationals of that third country for which the recognition rate is low”.
Article 8 makes reference to certain conditions under which visas may be temporarily suspended, based on relevant and objective data. A Member State is allowed to notify the Commission if over a two month period, when compared to the same period in the preceding year, one of the conditions increases.
The letter presented to the Commission includes significant amounts of data that it proposes satisfies the criteria for suspension of visas for Albanian nationals within the European Union.
In terms of Article 8 (2d) “an increased risk or imminent threat to the public policy or internal security of Member States”, the letter states that since 2015 there has been a “substantial increase in serious criminal offences linked to Albanian nationals”. These crimes include cocaine trafficking, money laundering and the trafficking of human beings. Their presence is described as becoming “more prominent” and their activities are described as an “imminent threat to internal security.”
A total of 1685 Albanian suspects were registered by the police between 2016 and 2018, and Albanian speaking suspects ranked number two in the top five alerts registered by the Netherlands in the Schengen Information System. This system provides information on individuals who do not have the right to remain or enter in the Schengen Area or who are wanted for criminal activities.
Despite a Letter of intent signed between Dutch and Albanian ministers in May 2018 and subsequent meetings in February 2019 to facilitate cooperation between the countries, “there is still room for further improvement” as the cooperation has “not resulted in concrete successes on the ground”.
The letter also includes data relating to the number of Albanians remaining in the Netherlands who were refused entry or were found to be there illegally. The number of those found staying illegally has almost tripled between 2017 and 2018 from 395 to 945 respectively. In addition to this, the number of those refused entry hovers just below 600 for 2017 and 2018 combined.
The number of asylum applications also increased over that particular time frame from 365 to 550 yet the recognition rate remains low at less than 1%.
This data was submitted to provide evidence to the Commission as to why the suspension should be enacted for a period of nine months.
The Commission have one month from today to consider the request and the data contained within and the suspension can be enacted via simple majority of EU Member States. During the period of suspension, the Commission would “establish an enhanced dialogue with the third country concerned with a view to remedying the circumstances in question.”
The request comes just days after the European Commission recommended to the European Council that accession talks with Albania are opened. The recommendation was made following the publication of a progress report where it was stated that the country was prepared and making progress that should satisfy the requirements of opening negotiations.