French daily Le Monde reports that France has criticsed the European Commission for pursuing visa liberalisation talks with Western Balkan countries for "political reasons", neglecting the "risks" associated with further opening the EU's borders.
"The Commission wants a measure but will not be dealing with its negative impacts," an unnamed high-level French diplomat is quoted as saying.
He adds that it is EU member states, at the end of the day, who will have to deal with the immigration and security issues resulting from lifting visa barriers with the Western Balkans (see 'Background').
Speaking in the French parliament on 29 September, French State Secretary for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche called the visa policy a "matter of security".
"Last year, the countries of former Yugoslavia saw the visa requirement lifted. Those remaining are Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Each time, this is a very delicate exercise. My position, and I think that of the government, is that the visa issue is a matter of security. It is not only a diplomatic present which we offer along the way," Lellouche said.
He added that France would request "security guarantees" from Albania and Bosnia before it gives its green light for lifting visa requirements for those countries. He also indicated that in the case of Bosnia, there was "a need for a state" with whom France would deal.
Bosnia and Herzegovina remain a country where the Serbia-populated Republika Srpska and the Bosnian-Croat Federation live separate lives.
Final word with EU Parliament and member states
Asked by EurActiv to comment, Michele Cercone, spokesperson for EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, said the Commission had done its job, both by proposing visa liberalisation and by having checked that all necessary criteria had been met.
"Now that all the criteria are met, it's up to the Parliament and the Council to adopt a final decision," Cercone said.
The European Parliament is overwhelmingly supportive of extending visa liberalisation to Albania and Bosnia. The Parliament's rapporteur on the issues, Tanja Fajon (Socialists & Democrats; Slovenia) recently strongly called for a date to be named for completing the talks before the end of the year.
Last week, the Parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee adopted a draft resolution for visa liberalisation for Albania and Bosnia with 49 votes in favour and only two abstentions.