In its Wednesday meeting, the European Commission is expected to give its approval of the recommendation for lifting the visa regime for citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but there are many more steps to be taken before the countries’ citizens can travel freely in Europe without a visa.
The recommendation will be made public on Thursday by European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom.
Although it will recommend the lifting of the visa regime for those two countries, the European Commission’s recommendation is expected to include a number of requirements that Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina must still fulfill. The EC will most likely ask Tirana and Sarajevo to meet three additional requirements.
According to the draft recommendation, obtained by Balkan Insight, the European Commission will ask Albania to complete the development of a strategy and policy to support the reintegration of Albanian returnees.
It will also call on both Albania and Bosnia to strengthen law enforcement capacities and effective implementation of the legal framework for the fight against organised crime and corruption, including through allocation of adequate financial and human resources.
The third requirement addressed to Tirana concerns the effective implementation of the new law adopted in 2009 in the area of the confiscation of criminal assets.
Based on the same document, Sarajevo will have to effectively implement the action plan following the agreement on the establishment of electronic data exchange between police and prosecution bodies.
In addition, the Commission will ask Bosnia to ensure that entity-level and Brcko District criminal codes are amended to harmonize them with the state-level criminal code.
Last year, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina failed to meet the necessary conditions for visa liberalisation, and thus could not be part of the first wave of visa-free travel for countries in the region. While all of the countries in the Western Balkans hoped to be granted a visa-free regime last year, only Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia succeeded in joining the “White Schengen” list in December 2009.
Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina had been hoping to join their neighbours on the list in the first part of this year. Additional expert missions were sent to both countries and this spring Brussels found that the two countries had made improvements in meeting benchmarks for visa-free travel. Some experts were even quoted as saying that Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina were more prepared this spring than Serbia and Montenegro were last year when the Commission recommended the lifting of visas for them.
Even with a positive recommendation from the European Commission, Albanian and Bosnian citizens are unlikely to enjoy visa-free travel in the countries of Western Europe before the end of this year because of additional procedures necessary for the decision to become valid.
After the official recommendation by European Commission, it has to get the green light from the European Parliament and final approval of the Council of Ministers. Sources from the European Parliament have stressed that in the best-case scenario the parliament would address the visa issue in mid-September at the earliest.
After the European Parliament gives its go-ahead, the visa question will move to the Council of Ministers. The Belgian EU Presidency, which takes over the mandate on July 1, has insisted that the issue must be left in the exclusive hands of EU ministers of interior.
Once the interior ministers agree on lifting the visa regime for Albanian and Bosnian citizens, it enters into force twenty days after the decision is published in the EU’s official journal.