Albania and Bosnia closer to EU visa-free travel

AUGUSTIN PALOKAJ

27.04.2010 @ 09:46 CET

Two more countries of the Western Balkans may be added to the so-called "White Schengen list" in the coming months, which would allow their citizens to travel to most of the European Union without visas.

Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina stand a good chance of a positive decision, according to the latest assessment of European Commission experts, seen by WAZ.EUobserver.

The developments threaten to leave Kosovo in a 'black hole' (Photo: mpd01605)

Both states have met most of the criteria for visa-free travel, but still have work to do, the EU experts conclude. This means the decision to waive Schengen visas for their citizens may be conditional upon the fulfillment of remaining benchmarks by Tirana and Sarajevo. Insufficient progress in meeting the conditions prevented Albania and Bosnia from obtaining visa-free travel at the end of last year, when Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia were allowed into the scheme.

EU diplomats expect conditional approval to be granted to both countries, although Bosnia is faring better than Albania in meeting the criteria. The recommendation to lift the visa requirements is to be made by the commission after another assessment later in the year. Final approval will depend on the EU's interior ministers and on endorsement by the European Parliament.

The benchmarks both countries have to meet are divided into four thematic areas. Bosnia and Albania "appear to meet the benchmarks" in the first section, dealing with security of documents, the commission experts stated. A key condition in this area is the introduction of biometric passports.

Both countries also "generally meet" the benchmarks under heading four, related to foreign affairs and fundamental rights.

The criteria on illegal migration and readmission, which under heading three, have also been covered, although Albania's efforts in this area are yet to be verified by the European Commission, particularly in relation to the development of a strategy to support the reintegration of Albanian returnees deported by EU member states.

Work remains to be completed in area three however, which also refers to the rule of law, security and the fight against organised crime and corruption. According to the summary of the draft assessment by the EU experts, the commission will ask both countries to make "further efforts regarding the strengthening of the capacities of law enforcement and effective implementation of the legal framework for the fight against organised crime and corruption, including through allocation of adequate financial and human resources."

Several EU member states insist that the decision on visa liberalisation be made as soon as possible, especially in the case of Bosnia, where elections are scheduled for the autumn of this year. Although they are closer than ever to visa-free travel to most of the EU, both Sarajevo and Tirana have to step up their efforts to meet the remaining benchmarks, EU diplomats warned.

The EU is still looking for a way to include Kosovo in the process of visa liberalisation. Otherwise the citizens of Europe's youngest state may be left in a "black hole" inside a region where most people will soon enjoy the end of restrictions to free travel.

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