The European Commission today (27 May) adopted proposals to enable citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina to travel with biometric passports to the Schengen countries without requiring visas. If the countries satisfy a number of outstanding requirements, visas could be lifted by autumn.
"I know how much visa-free travel means to the people of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Granting visa-free travel is a cornerstone of the EU's integration policy for the Western Balkans," Cecilia Malmström, the EU's commissioner for home affairs, said in Brussels.
The proposal aims to simplify travel to EU countries (except the UK and Ireland, which do not take part in the common visa policy) and non-EU members of the Schengen area (Switzerland, Norway and Iceland) for citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, abolishing an obligation to apply for short-term visas.
The Commission said in a press release that the announcement was the result of more than two years' intensive work in the framework of the visa liberalisation dialogue.
On the basis of roadmaps presented by the European Commission, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina made significant progress in improving passport security, strengthening border controls and reinforcing the institutional framework to fight organised crime and corruption, the Commission states.
However, more remains to be done in three areas, and any decision to lift visa requirements would depend on further advances in those areas.
For Albania, the remaining open benchmarks relate to:
- The development of a strategy and policy to support the reintegration of Albanian returnees;
- the strengthening of law enforcement capacities and the effective implementation of a legal framework for fighting organised crime and corruption, including by allocating adequate human and financial resources, and;
- the effective implementation of a legal framework for confiscating assets from organised crime.
For Bosnia and Herzegovina, the open issues relate to:
- the strengthening of law enforcement capacities and the effective implementation of a legal framework for fighting organised crime and corruption, including by allocating adequate human and financial resources;
- the progressive implementation of an action plan from March 2010 on the establishment of electronic data exchange between police and prosecution bodies, and;
- the harmonisation of entity level and Brcko district criminal codes with state-level criminal code.
Brcko is an autonomous district with a population of 40,000. It enjoys higher living standards than the rest of the country, but is also seen as a heaven for organised crime.
The Commission said it would monitor progress over the summer to allow the Council and the European Parliament to take a final decision this autumn.
Belgium and Sweden recently experienced problems with a wave of ethnic Albanian and Roma asylum seekers of Serbian and Macedonian nationality. They were eventually sent back to their countries of origin (EurActiv 12/03/10).
Stefan Füle, the EU's commissioner for enlargement and European neighbourhood policy, stated: "This proposal for visa-free travel is of the utmost importance for the citizens of the countries concerned, since it will bring them closer to the EU. The visa-free regime will contribute to making the European perspective more tangible. I am as confident as Commissioner Malmström that relevant national authorities in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina will soon be able to fulfil all outstanding requirements and continue to guarantee consistent results in the implementation of the roadmaps."