Opening door to Western Balkans
© Richard Villalon, Fotolia
Soon citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina holding biometric passports will be able to travel to the Schengen area and stay for three months without applying for a visa. This is a result of the Justice and Home Affairs Council's meeting on 8 November, at which the ministers adopted an amendment of the regulation which lists third countries to which the visa-free regime applies.
To obtain the visa waiver for the Schengen area (which covers all EU member states except the UK and Ireland, as well as three non-EU members: Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) the two Balkan states had to fulfil a number of criteria, contained in the so-called "roadmaps" which they designed together with the EU member states and the European Commission.
The two candidates for visa-free travel had to carry out a number of important reforms, e.g. improve their capacity to fight organised crime and corruption, increase passport security and improve border controls. The European Union, which considers stability, peace and prosperity in the Western Balkans to be one of its highest priorities, helped to bring about these necessary changes and provided the requisite technical and financial assistance.
To ensure that visa liberalisation works smoothly and to forestall the risk of possible abuse of asylum procedures, the EU Commission will now follow up on how Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina manage their borders, their document security and the migration flows between the EU and their own territories. It will also monitor how these countries implement readmission agreements with the EU.
The visa liberalisation is part of the so-called "Thessaloniki agenda", adopted in 2003 and designed to bring the Western Balkan states closer to the EU.
Webcast of press conference