The final sprint: Albania's and Bosnia's progress in reaching the remaining open benchmarks (9 August 2010)
On 27 May 2010, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal, suggesting to lift the visa requirement for the citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina if the two governments meet a few remaining open benchmarks from their "visa roadmaps". The Commission had already identified these benchmarks a few weeks earlier and asked the two governments to work on them and to send progress reports by 25 June 2010 (see Commission letters to Albania and to Bosnia May 2010).
For each country, there are three open benchmarks. Both have to strengthen capacities and fully implement legislation to fight organised crime and corruption. Albania also has to implement legislation on the confiscation of assets that are the proceeds of crime, and it has to adopt a strategy to reintegrate Albanian citizens that are returned to Albania. Bosnia, on the other hand, has to harmonise all the criminal codes across the country, and it has to make progress in establishing an electronic system through which its police agencies and prosecutors at the various administrative levels will exchange information.
ESI has analysed Albania's and Bosnia's progress reports of 25 June and come to the conclusion that both countries have made very good progress. Already now, the two countries have taken impressive steps to reach the open benchmarks, and they are likely to achieve further progress by the time the European Parliament and the Council will vote on the Commission proposal. Albania has practically already met all three open benchmarks, while Bosnia has by and large met two, and one partly. Bosnia still needs to make further progress on the establishment of the exchange server. What is needed is the adoption of a bylaw and a decision by Bosnia's government, the Council of Ministers. Bosnia must also extend the mandate of the acting director of the Anti-Corruption Agency.
The European Parliament will vote earliest in September, and the Council earliest in October 2010. At the end of August, both countries are due to submit updates of their progress to the Commission. There is time for Bosnia's Council of Ministers to adopt the necessary bylaw and decision, and for Bosnia's House of Peoples to extend the mandate of the acting director of the Anti-Corruption Agency.
During evaluation missions that took place 5 to 8 July in Bosnia, and 12 to 15 July in Albania, experts from the Commission and from EU member states verified the situation on the ground. Provided that the experts have come to similar conclusions as ESI (unofficial reports indicate they have), and provided that Bosnia will take the last couple of necessary steps, the decision-making process leading to visa-free travel should begin in September.
Both countries are also ready to launch extensive public information campaigns about the provisions of visa-free travel. They will inform their citizens that visa-free travel only applies to holders of the new biometric passports, that it allows visits of up to 3 months within a 6-month period and that it does not entitle to working and residing in the EU. Albania already ran a TV campaign in April and will repeat it in the run-up to visa-free travel. It is also planning further activities together with the EU Delegation in Albania. Bosnia plans to launch a 3-month multi-media campaign, which it has coordinated with the EU Delegation in Sarajevo, around a month before the start of visa-free travel.
The Commission and a few EU countries consider these campaigns important to prevent unintentional abuse of visa-free travel.
ESI analysis: The final sprint: Albania's and Bosnia's progress in reaching the remaining open benchmarks (9 August 2010)