The Commission today (26 May) officially launched talks with Bosnia over a visa-free regime, while 16 June was identified as the official day for the eventual signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), seen as a key step towards EU membership.
Bosnia was the last Balkan country to launch visa talks which will allow Bosnian citizens to travel unhampered within EU countries.
The Commission will outline a roadmap towards full visa liberalisation in the coming weeks, said Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot, who remains in charge of transport until the new Italian Commissioner Antonio Tajani takes over next month when approved by Parliament, after his meeting with the Bosnian Prime Minister Nikola Spiric.
Barrot listed several conditions which must to be met before all visa restrictions can be lifted, namely effective border management, the fight against corruption and illegal immigration as well as respect for democratic values and fundamental rights.
The pace of the negotiations will solely depend on the progress being made by the Bosnian government, Barrot said, adding that he was confident that the talks would quickly move forward.
As a first step towards full visa liberalisation, the Commission last year concluded visa facilitation agreements with all the Western Balkan countries, including Bosnia. These entered into force on 1 January 2008 and aim to lower fees and shorten the issuing time for visas.
Meanwhile, Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn confirmed 16 June as the date for the signature of the SAA with Bosnia, which had been foreseen much earlier but got delayed due to a division among Bosnian parties over the EU’s request for reform of the country’s police forces and unsatisfactory cooperation with the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
In April, the Bosnian Parliament finally approved the police reform (EURACTIV 17/04/08) but then the EU decided to give priority to signing the SAA with Serbia, in a move aimed at strengthening pro-EU forces ahead of the elections on 11 May (EURACTIV 30/04/08).