Sunday

16th Jun 2019

Albania and Bosnia to get visa-free travel before Christmas

  • Albanians keen to come to Belgium have to get into Bulgaria first in a maze of paperwork (Photo: afagen)

EU interior ministers are on Monday (8 November) expected to lift visa requirements for Albanian and Bosnian citizens despite limited progress in terms of democracy, the fight against organised crime and corruption in the two countries.

The decision will come into force "shortly before Christmas," EU officials say. It will allow biometric passport-holders from the two Balkan countries to stay up to three months in any European state which is part of the passport-free Schengen zone. Britain and Ireland are not included, but non EU-states Switzerland, Iceland and Norway are.

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"It can take months to get all the necessary paperwork, stand in all the lines and suffer all the humiliation which comes with the process," one Albanian contact, happy about the prospect of a visa-free future, told this website.

To Bosnians and Albanians, the news is sweet after they were left behind last year when Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro got on the visa-free list. Kosovo, on the other hand, has little prospect of catching up as it is not even recognised by all EU member states.

On the EU side, some capitals are unhappy about the developments. The Netherlands is opposing the move, saying there has been too little progress in terms of democratisation, organised crime and corruption in Albania and Bosnia and pointing to the political chaos in both countries. France is also reluctant, fearing a massive influx of migrants.

The EU commission has given reassurances that Tirana and Sarajevo will make it clear that visa-free travel is not a ticket to asylum or residence in the EU after problems with Macedonian asylum seekers last year.

But even if France or the Netherlands votes No or abstain on Monday, the decision will be adopted by qualified majority.

The commission itself shares Dutch concerns. In the 2010 accession progress reports on the two countries, to be published on Tuesday and seen by EUobserver, neither Albania nor Bosnia win much praise.

"Bosnia and Herzegovina has made limited progress in addressing key reforms. Incompatibilities between the Bosnian constitution and the EU convention on human rights were not removed, despite the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights," the document says. It also criticises Bosnia for lacking "a shared vision by the leaders on the overall direction of the country and on key EU-related reforms."

On Albania, it says the political stalemate after 2009 elections is the biggest obstacle to progress. It adds that Albania has made too little headway to be granted the status of EU candidate country, for which it applied in 2009. "Activities of organised crime groups in Albania, having impact outside of the country, remain an issue of serious concern. Further strenghtening of co-operation at the international level is necessary, including in particular with neighbouring countries," it says.

Neighbouring Montenegro, which applied to join the EU in 2008, is by contrast deemed ready to become an EU candidate.

A previous version of this article stated that Albanians have to travel to Sofia for a Belgian visa. This is no longer the case, since January 2009.

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