EC Urged to Expand Visa-Free Scheme

resizer14The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has urged the European Commission, EC, to change its plan for visa-liberalisation in the Balkans.

The committee asked the EC to tentatively add Albania and Bosnia to the White Schengen list, pending the fulfillment of benchmarks, and to urgently open talks on the visa scheme with Kosovo, media reported on Wednesday.

According to a press release: “This approach varies from that of the European Commission, in that the latter would require a new legal proposal next year for a visa waiver for Bosnia and Albania.”

This development represents an important shift in the European approach to visa liberalisation for west Balkan countries. It comes after protests and increased lobbying from Balkan and European officials, in the wake of the publication of the EC visa-liberalisation plan this summer.

The plan proposed offering visa-liberalisation to Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, but excluded Albania, Bosnia and residents of Kosovo.

Some officials and commentators warned that the proposal was discriminatory and threatened to further amplify divisions in the Balkans. Several thousand prominent members of European and Balkan organisations, including politicians, academics, and artists, signed a petition urging the EU to change the plan.

The European Parliament is to vote on the issue on October 19.

Should the committee’s proposed changes be taken up by the EC, which is far from certain given that EP decisions are not binding on the Commission, Bosnia and Albania could be incorporated into the EU visa-free regime as soon as they fulfil remaining conditions. These include the issuance of biometric passports, which started in Bosnia in September.

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