Albania and Bosnia must catch up on reform to qualify for short-stay visa waiver, say MEPs

Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina must catch up on the reforms needed to qualify for a short-stay visa waiver like those of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, said MEPs on Thursday. The European Commission should report on the two countries’ progress early in 2010, and also start a dialogue on visas with Kosovo, they added.

MEPs reiterated that the visa liberalisation dialogue places all countries on an equal footing, without any discrimination, and that the same criteria (e.g. progress in introducing biometric passports and improving border control and policing), should apply to all countries concerned. They called on Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina to adopt the reforms needed to meet the requirements in full, with the Commission’s help, and asked the Commission to report back on their progress early in 2010.

The Commission had proposed that short-stay (less than three months) visa requirements be waived for FYROM, Serbia and Montenegro, but Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina did not qualify. Members said that both should catch up as soon as possible, without lowering the standards common to all. They also underlined that Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina had made further progress since the Commission published its last assessment.

Albania and Bosnia should be named in both annexes I and II

MEPs propose to add Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the list of visa-free countries (annex II of the proposal), albeit with a footnote stating that the visa exemption would take effect only after an assessment by the Commission that the country in question meets all the benchmarks and in accordance with the procedures as provided by the Treaty. Both provisionally remain in annex I (countries whose citizens require a visa).

Visa dialogue with Kosovo

The Commission should also start visa dialogue with Kosovo, so as to establish a roadmap for visa facilitation and liberalisation similar to those established with the Western Balkan countries, said MEPs, adding that the visa liberalisation process should serve as a reference for defining relations with the EU’s eastern partners.

The consultation report drafted by Tanja Fajon (S&D, SL) was adopted with 550 votes in favour, 51 against and 37 abstentions.

Background

EU policy towards the Western Balkans, as set out in the Thessaloniki agenda, lists visa liberalisation as a step towards eventual EU membership. Visa liberalisation negotiations were launched in 2008, with progress benchmarks that include introducing biometric passports, which citizens must possess in order to qualify for the visa waiver.

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