Main building of the European Parliament in Brussels from inside. Photo: flickr/Bernard Rouffignac
Main building of the European Parliament in Brussels from inside. Photo: flickr/Bernard Rouffignac

The opinion of the European Parliament

On 12 November 2009, the European Parliament adopted its opinion of the Commission's visa proposal of 15 July 2009, which offered visa-free travel to Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. At the time, the Parliament's opinion was non-binding, but it carried weight. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the Parliament has become co-decision maker on visa issues on equal footing with the Council.

In its non-binding opinion, the Parliament supported the Commission's proposal to abolish the visa requirement for Macedonians, Montenegrins and Serbians. It also upheld ESI's other key demands. The Parliament requested:

  • that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania be moved to the "white list" (together with Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro), but with asterisks stipulating that visa-free travel will remain suspended until the Commission assesses that the two countries meet all roadmap requirements. (ESI asked for such as solution as early as 1 June 2009 in a letter sent to the relevant EU and national decision-makers.)
  • that the Commission start a visa dialogue with Kosovo and establish a roadmap for visa liberalisation for Kosovo similar to those established with the other Western Balkan countries. (ESI started a campaign to achieve a roadmap for Kosovo in July 2009.)

Like ESI, the Parliament stressed that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania had made progress with regard to the visa roadmap since the May 2009 Commission assessments; and like ESI, the Parliament called on the Commission, "without delay and no later than in early 2010", to present new assessment reports for these two countries.

The Parliament's report, which was drafted by MEP Tanja Fajon (the rapporteur for the Commission's visa proposal), was adopted with 550 votes in favour, 51 against and 37 abstentions. This result reflected overwhelming support of the MEPs for the abolition of the visa restrictions for citizens from the Western Balkan countries, including Kosovo.

Fajon, a Slovenian from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, is a member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). The LIBE Committee voted on Fajon's draft opinion on 19 October and accepted it almost unanimously it with 45 votes in favour, 2 against and 2 abstentions. Previously, on 6 October, the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET), which provided input into LIBE's report, adopted a very similar opinion with 53 votes in favour, 8 against and 7 abstentions.

The two rapporteurs, Ms Fajon for LIBE and Sarah Ludford for AFET (UK; Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), explained in their reports that their approach would prevent further divisions in the region and an isolation of Albania and Bosnia, signal to the citizens of these two countries that the EU is waiting for them, and make sure that they would enjoy visa-free travel as soon as the conditions are met. As regards Kosovo, the two rapporteurs argued that Kosovo must not be left in "a black hole" without any perspective for visa-free travel and without an incentive to carry out necessary structural reforms.

Initially, the two MEPs also wanted to avoid a lengthy EU law-changing procedure for Albania and Bosnia by declaring positive Commission assessments sufficient for the lifting of the visa requirement, but this was legally not possible. EU decision-making procedures are defined in the EU Treaty and must not be changed. This is why the final reports no longer mention this option.

However, Fajon still succeeded in committing the EU member states to working swiftly once the Commission would assess Albania's and Bosnia's implementation record as sufficient. The then imminent entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which has given the European Parliament co-decision power on visa policy, and the broad support that the reports from Fajon and Ludford received in their committees strengthened Fajon's position vis-à-vis the Council.

As a result, she was able to negotiate with the EU member states a "Joint Statement by the European Parliament and the Council" aimed at making sure that Albania and Bosnia would be granted visa-free travel as soon as they meet the conditions. In this statement, the Council and the Parliament invited the Commission to present a legislative proposal for Albania and Bosnia as soon as it has assessed that each country meets the benchmarks, and the Parliament and the Council committed themselves to dealing with the proposal "as a matter of urgency."

Following the delivery of the Parliament's opinion on 12 November 2009, the Council was able to take a vote on the Commission's visa proposal on 30 November 2009.


The Schengen White List Project