ESI Viewpoint: Visa-free travel for Albania and Bosnia in reach

(sent to relevant officials from the EU institutions, EU member states and Western Balkan governments, to think-tanks and to media representatives)

26 April 2010

On 19 April 2010, the European Commission issued its detailed assessments of progress in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina with regard to conditions of the visa roadmap. This will open the door for the citizens of these two countries to travel visa-free to the European Union before the end of 2010.

The message of both reports is encouraging. Albania and Bosnia have made remarkable headway in the past year. ESI's updated Scorecard, which is based on an analysis of the Commission assessments, shows that today they are doing better in meeting the demanding visa roadmap conditions than Montenegro and Serbia were doing at around the same time a year ago.

  1. Macedonia
  2. Bosnia
  3. Albania
  4. Montenegro
  5. Serbia
  6. Kosovo
  • (May 2009)
  • (April 2010)
  • (April 2010)
  • (May 2009)
  • (May 2009)
  • still missing
  • score: 1.3
  • score: 1.4
  • score: 1.6
  • score: 1.9
  • score: 2
  • score: -
 

 

Albania
(April 2010)

Bosnia
(April 2010)

Macedonia
(May 2009)

Montenegro
(May 2009)

Serbia
(May 2009)

1. Document security

1

1

1

1

1.5

2. Illegal migration incl. readmission

1.5

1

1.5

2

2

3.Public order and security

2.5

2.5

1.5

2.5

2.5

4. External relations and fundamental rights

1.5

1

1

2

2

Average:

1.6

1.4

1.3

1.9

2

A year ago, Montenegro and Serbia were deemed fit for visa-free travel by the Commission pending the fulfilment of a handful of still outstanding conditions. The same approach will now most likely be taken for Albania and Bosnia (see ESI's comparison of the open benchmarks in the four countries).

Today, the Commission will present its assessments to EU member states and tomorrow, on 27 April, to the European Parliament. Following these talks, the Commission intends to issue a legislative proposal in time for the EU-Western Balkans Foreign Ministers' Summit in Sarajevo planned for 2 June. The Commission proposal will offer visa-free travel to the two countries conditional on fulfilment of a few specific benchmarks that have remained open.

In fact, a strong case could be made in favour of giving Bosnia visa-free travel without any additional conditions. ESI already reported on the remarkable visa breakthrough in Bosnia that was achieved last summer. This progress has continued. Despite Bosnia's decentralised structure, its leaders have found solutions to fulfil the criteria of the roadmap. They have set up new mechanisms of coordination, cooperation and exchange of information.

However, if the Commission and EU countries decide not to offer visa-free travel to Bosnia without conditions, all the parties involved in the process should work at maximum speed to allow for the lifting of the visa barrier in the shortest possible time. This would be in the spirit of the political declaration that the European Parliament and the Council issued last November, urging visa-free travel for the two countries "as soon as possible".

  • Albania and Bosnia can meet the outstanding conditions within a short period of time if they put their minds to it.
  • This would allow the Commission to assess by July that there has been sufficient progress.
  • This in turn would enable the European Parliament, which has become a co-decision maker under the Lisbon Treaty, to prepare a decision before the summer break in August.
  • MEPs could then vote in the responsible committees and in a plenary session in September.
  • The Justice and Home Affairs Council, whose meetings during the Belgian Presidency are scheduled for 7/8 October, 8/9 November and 2/3 December 2010, could take the final vote on 7/8 October.
  • In this case visa-free travel could become a reality for Albanians and Bosnians at the end of October – 20 days after the final vote is taken, following the decision's publication in the EU's official Journal.

The slowness of the process has already led to frustrations, particularly in Bosnia. Now images of Bosnia being walled in and comparisons to the confinement of Europeans produced by the ash cloud circulate on the Internet. Civil Affairs Minister Sredoje Novic (a Bosnian Serb) spoke of "particular disappointment" by all the officials involved in meeting the roadmap criteria when they heard that they still need to meet some outstanding conditions. He also mentioned "double standards" in comparison to Bosnia's neighbours.

Every effort should now be made to live up the promise of treating visa-free travel for Bosnia and Albania with urgency. In addition it would be important for EU officials to publicly acknowledge what the two countries have achieved. In early October 2010, national elections will be held in Bosnia. Recognition of the achievements and assurance that visa-free travel is around the corner will increase popular support for the EU and give EU themes more weight in the pre-election campaign.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini have already commended Bosnia and Albania. When EU interior ministers meet for a Justice and Home Affairs Council on 3 and 4 June, right after the Commission plans to present its proposal, they should follow their lead; and so should all the EU foreign ministers when they come together for a General Affairs Council in 14 June.

By October, the Albanian and Bosnian visa ghettos should be a thing of the past. Then the only Balkan country under visa obligation will be Kosovo. Kosovo still needs to be given a chance to achieve visa liberalisation by receiving a roadmap.

(...)

Best regards,

Gerald Knaus

Gerald Knaus,
Chairperson of ESI

Alexandra Stiglmayer

Alexandra Stiglmayer,
Director "ESI Schengen White List Project"

 
Das Schengen White List Projekt