European Stability Initiative - ESI - 18 October 2017, 15:10
URL:

Tanja Fajon (MEP) in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. Photo: European Parliament - Audiovisual Unit
Tanja Fajon (MEP) in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. Photo: European Parliament - Audiovisual Unit

The European Parliament on Albania and Bosnia

The European Parliament has been supportive of the visa liberalisation process for the Western Balkans. It fully backed the Council decision of 30 November 2009 that gave visa-free travel to the citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

At the time – before the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 – the European Parliament had to be consulted by the Council, but it did not have any decision-making power. Under the Lisbon Treaty, this has changed. Now the Council and the Parliament are on an equal footing with regard to deciding the EU's visa policy. This means that they will decide together whether and when to lift the visa requirement for Albania and Bosnia.

When the visa requirement for Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia was abolished in November 2009, the European Parliament was keen to see that the citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina would not have to wait for too long before they could travel visa-free. On 12 November 2009, the parliament voted in favour of visa-free travel for Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, also endorsing a declaration that its rapporteur for the dossier, Tanja Fajon, had negotiated with the Council. In the declaration, the parliament and the Council committed themselves to treating visa liberalisation for Albania and Bosnia as "a matter of urgency".

Meanwhile, Bosnia and Albania continued to implement the visa roadmap requirements. In December 2009 and in February 2010, the Commission sent experts' missions to assess the status of roadmap implementation in these two countries.

Following the February missions, the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), which Fajon belongs to, invited the Commission to update the committee members on the next steps and the expected timetable. At the LIBE meeting on 23 February 2010, the Commission announced that it would present the final assessments of progress in Albania and Bosnia only in mid-April. This meant that Albania and Bosnia could not be granted visa-free travel before the summer even if they fulfilled all conditions, since the decision-making process - from the presentation of a legislative proposal by the Commission to the voting by the parliament and the Council - takes more time (see "The EU Decision-making Process"). The LIBE Committee was not happy with this timetable. On 2 March 2010, the committee sent a letter to the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, asking her to speed up the process. A few days earlier, ESI had also sent a letter to the relevant officials in EU institutions criticising the delay. It was titled Urgency, complacency and a broken promise.

However, the Commission did not change its timetable. It issued its assessments of progress by Albania and Bosnia on 19 April 2010. The assessments were largely positive, but identified a few remaining open benchmarks. As a result, the Commission decided to follow the same approach it had used with Montenegro and Serbia almost a year earlier: In its legislative proposal of 27 May 2010, it offered visa-free travel to Albania and Bosnia, but on condition that the two countries meet the open benchmarks, three for each country (see Commission letters following the 6 May meetings here). The two countries were asked to report on progress at the end of June and then again at the end of August 2010. On 14 September, the Commission issued a report certifying that "Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina have taken all the necessary measures to fulfil all open benchmarks [...] and consequently can be transferred from the negative (Annex I) to the positive (Annex II) list of Regulation 539/2001."

The actual decision-making process by the European Parliament and the Council started in September 2010 with discussions and votes in the European Parliament's LIBE and AFET committees. Since the Commission issued its legislative proposal on 27 May, it would not have been possible to begin the process earlier. A provision of the Lisbon Treaty gives the national parliaments of EU member states eight weeks to study legislative proposals made by the Commission and to intervene if they think this is necessary. This meant that the European Parliament could have started to work on the Commission's proposal after 27 July, but this was already the period of the summer recess, which ends at the end of August – hence the Parliament became active in early September. However, rapporteur Fajon prepared already in July 2010 the draft decision (draft "report") on the Commission proposal to abolish the visa requirement for Albania and Bosnia. Her fellow MEP Sarah Ludford, who has acted as the rapporteur on the visa issue for the AFET Committee, did the same; AFET is providing input into LIBE's report. Both draft reports envisaged approval of the Commission proposal without any amendments if the Commission certifies that all benchmarks have been fulfilled.

On 2 September, Fajon presented her report to the LIBE Committee, and the European Commission briefed the members of the LIBE Committee on progress that Albania and Bosnia had achieved in meeting the open benchmarks, concluding that they now qualified for visa-free travel (on 14 September, the Commission followed up with its written report).

On 6 September, the AFET Committee voted in favour of Sarah Ludford's report, with 41 positive votes, 2 negative votes and 3 abstentions. The LIBE Committee voted Tanja Fajon's report on 28 September; 48 MP voted in favour and 2 against (there were no abstentions).  At the Plenary Session of 6-7 October 2010, Fajon's report was discussed and obtained overwhelming support: all the main political groups voted in favour of abolishing the visa requirement for Albanians and Bosnians. 538 MEPs voted in favour of her report, 47 against, and 41 abstained. All that now separates the two countries from visa-free travel is a vote by the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which is scheduled for 8/9 November 2010. As Fajon remarked, a "yes" of the EU would be "a clear signal that hard work pays off".

In the explanatory text of her report, Fajon urges not to lose any time.

"Every effort should now be made to deliver visa-free travel for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania as soon as possible. We should bear in mind that after the break up of Yugoslavia, after cruel wars brutally divided the region and left very deep wounds in peoples' minds and hearts and hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants fled the region, we witness the growth of a young generation, which is cut off from the unifying and prosperous Union. Do we really want to keep the door shut to our close neighbours, to the countries which try their best to please us? We are not deciding about granting jobs or residential rights, we are deciding about the basic right of a future EU citizen to freely travel to the Union.

"Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania have made an important progress in the last few months after the European Commission last July decided they do not qualify for visa liberalisation. By prizing only some nations, there is always a risk to destabilise the region and cut the political and ethnical puzzles in even smaller pieces. Therefore, it is necessary not to lose too much time. Their governments worked hard in the last few months, so they could repair their own mistakes and delays and deliver the same quality as their neighbouring countries."

 

Timetable:

2 Sept. 2010

 

LIBE Committee discusses and supports draft report by Tanja Fajon, which advocates lifting the visa restrictions on Albania and Bosnia

6 Sept. 2010

 

AFET Committee votes in favour of the Ludford report, which is also in favour of abolishing the visa requirement for Albania and Bosnia

     

14 Sept. 2010

 

Commission issues report, confirming that Albania and Bosnia have met the open benchmarks

15 Sept. 2010

 

First discussions in the Council working groups on the Western Balkans (Coweb) and visa issues (visa group)

28 Sept. 2010

 

LIBE Committee votes in favour of Fajon's report, once again supporting visa liberalisation for Albania and Bosnia

     

6-7 Oct. 2010

 

The plenary of the European Parliament votes in favour of the Fajon report

8 Nov. 2010

 

The Justice and Home Affairs Council unanimously approves the Commission proposal

Around 15 Dec. 2010

 

Start of visa-free travel for Albanians and Bosnians, following the official signing of the EU decision and its publication in the Official Journal

     

© European Stability Initiative - ESI 2017
18 October 2017, 15:10