Update to ESI op-ed "France backtracking on EU promise to the Balkans?" of 29 September 2010
ESI's op-ed urging France to drop its objections to lifting the visa restrictions for Albania and Bosnia & Herzegovina has caused quite a stir. It has been published by the Brussels-based EUobserver and widely covered by the regional media. International publications too have taken up ESI's cause. The Economist wrote on 30 September in a piece about elections in Bosnia:
"In the meantime, Bosnia (and Albania) may win visa-free travel to the EU's Schengen zone, thanks largely to hard work in law enforcement. If, however, France tries to torpedo this, as recent reports suggest it might, the EU's credibility in the Balkans will be further damaged - and Bosnians will learn that politics can trump rules. That would be a terrible message to send."
Le Monde wrote on 1 October:
"Claiming to represent popular mood, which is hostile to enlargement, new migratory flows and the European institutions, the Elysée Palace does not want to bow before the Commission - even though this, once again, would mean isolating itself and disappointing a country as fragile as Bosnia. Besides, it risks giving two Muslim countries the feeling of being treated differently." (Translation by ESI)
Following ESI's op-ed and the media reports, representatives of Albania and Bosnia in Paris, Brussels, Tirana and Sarajevo have asked France to explain is stance.
It is to be hoped that France, but also other sceptical EU member states such as the Netherlands and Denmark, will soften their positions over the coming weeks. In fact, they might even consider voting in favour of visa-free travel for Albania and Bosnia following further, more in-depth briefings by the European Commission. This is, in short, what was agreed at a meeting of the ambassadors representing the 27 EU countries in Brussels on 29 September.
The Commission will use the briefings to convince the sceptics that Bosnia and Albania have really met all conditions for visa liberalisation. The vote is then scheduled to be taken at a meeting of EU interior and justice ministers (Justice and Home Affairs Council) on 8/9 November 2010. Even if the Commission does not succeed in convincing them – the Council votes by qualified majority, and there is such a majority on Bosnia's and Albania's side.
Prior to that, on 7 October, the European Parliament will vote. It is expected that the overwhelming majority of its 736 members will be in favour of abolishing the visa requirement for Albania and Bosnia. This, too, might have an impact on the sceptics. After all, the European Parliament decides on an equal footing with the Council.