24th Feb 2024

Commission to greenlight visa-free travel for Albania and Bosnia

  • Albanians and Bosnians will soon be able to travel visa-free to EU countries (Photo: johnnyalive)

The European Commission on Thursday (27 May) is expected to say that Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina are fit to be granted visa-free travel, a move that needs the approval of member states and the European Parliament.

The commission's green light will include some reservations, but they are considered technicalities that can be overcome by the time the legislature and member states formally endorse the decision, possibly this autumn.

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Both Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina fell behind fellow Balkan states such as Serbia and Macedonia, who were included on the visa-free list already last December.

Meanwhile, the two have made enough progress – for instance by introducing biometric passports and adopting re-admission agreements, according to an evaluation carried out by commission experts and seen by WAZ.EUobserver last month. But the expert assessment also pointed to deficiencies in applying the rule of law, security matters and the fight against organised crime and corruption.

Apart from the technical assessment, the decision to lift visa requirements to EU countries is also a political one, especially in the view of the October elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where ethnically-charged tensions are mounting.

Instead of following the general reconciliation trend among Balkan nations, the situation in Bosnia is deteriorating, especially due to the political rhetoric in the Serbian entity, the Republika Srpska, high representative Valentin Inzko told the UN Security Council on Monday (24 May) in New York.

The country is the only confederation in the post-Yugoslav landscape, bringing together Bosniak, Croat and Serbian communities governed by complex political structures, still under the supervision of a "high representative" with executive powers. This institution was put in place by the United Nations in the aftermath of the Bosnian war in 1995, in order to oversee compliance with the peace agreement – the "Dayton accords".

"The leadership of Republika Srpska has, for example, led the way in undermining state-level institutions and by threatening to hold an entity referendum that would seek to repudiate the authority of the high representative and decisions under Dayton," Mr Inzko said.

Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, has repeatedly threatened to hold referendums seeking to dissolve Mr Inzko's office and formally separate his region from the rest of Bosnia.

Fierce disagreements among the leaders of the main three ethnic groups on property issues and state powers are also flaming up ahead of the October elections.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday (25 May) warned Bosnian politicians to "make clear that the future of the country lies with Europe" and to stop "looking back at the past."

"We also have to consider the future as we look at the post election era and the opportunities that we will have to strengthen the relationships between different parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina," Ms Ashton said during a press briefing at Nato headquarters, where EU and Nato ambassadors discussed the situation in Bosnia.

The commission's green light on visa-free travel is not officially linked to the political process in the country, as it is based on a technical assessment.

But commission officials hope that once the political "hot potato" is passed on to the European Parliament and member states, they will be able to put more pressure on the leadership in Bosnia, as well as the opposition in Albania, still contesting the results of last year's elections, before finally approving the visa-free regime.

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