Albania, Bosnia one step closer to visa-free travel

The European Commission announced today its adoption of a proposal to lift the visa regime for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the two countries must still fulfill remaining benchmarks before their citizens can travel without a visa in the Schengen zone.

The decision was announced by European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom.

“Today’s proposal is the result of intensive and hard work for the authorities and the people of these countries in meeting the conditions,” Malmstrom said.

European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele mirrored Malmstrom’s remarks: “This proposal for visa free travel is of the utmost importance for the citizens of the countries concerned, since it will bring them closer to the EU. The visa-free regime will contribute to making the European perspective more tangible.

“I am as confident as Commissioner Malmström that relevant national authorities in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina will soon be able to fulfil all outstanding requirements and continue to guarantee consistent results in the implementation of the roadmaps.”

The adopted recommendation must still be given the green light by the European Parliament and then the Council of the European Union. Before that happens, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina will have to resolve several outstanding issues.

The European Commission has asked Albania to complete the development of a strategy and policy to support the reintegration of Albanian returnees, and implement a legal framework for the confiscation of criminal assets.

The Commission has called 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.

Bosnia will be asked as well to harmonize the entity level penal codes and the District of Brcko penal code with the state level code. It must also implement an electronic data exchange plan between police and prosecution bodies.

Over the summer experts missions from Brussels are expected to visit both Sarajevo and Tirana, and immediately after the summer break they will present their findings to the EU member states on the progress that has been made in fulfilling the remaining requirements.

Malmstrom said that she hoped the countries would do their outmost to fulfill the outstanding benchmarks so that the visa-free regime can enter into force by this autumn.

“Once the benchmarks are fulfilled it (the decision) will be there. If they are done by the summer, we can start a decision. The worst thing that can happen is that it can be a little bit delayed,” Malmstrom said.

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