France opposes further EU visa liberalisation talks

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Following France's controversial expulsions of illegal Roma migrants, most of whom were EU nationals of Romanian and Bulgarian origin, Paris has signalled its opposition to lifting visa requirements for Bosnian and Albanian citizens. euractiv.fr contributed to this article.

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.

The EU decided on 16 July 2009 that citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia should be able to travel to the Schengen area without visas starting from 19 December 2009, following recommendations adopted on 15 July that year by the European Commission (EURACTIV 16/07/09).

However, visa requirements remained in place for citizens from Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as both countries did not meet the criteria set by Brussels at that time. Last May, the Commission 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, the Commission indicated.

Kosovo is not covered by the Commission's initiative. The former Serbian province is a 'sui generis' case, as it is not recognised by five EU countries (Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia) (EURACTIV 19/10/09).

The Schengen area is made up of 28 European countries: all EU member states except the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria and Romania, as well as three non-EU members: Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

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