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Visa-free EU travel must be prospect for all West Balkan citizens

September 18, 2009 3:15 AM

The European Parliament has debated and is preparing a report on the European Commission's proposal to lift visa requirements for citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia from January 2010 for short trips to the EU Schengen zone (which the UK is not part of). MEPs expressed concern at the exclusion from the current draft measure of Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Liberal Democrat European justice & human rights spokeswoman and MEP for London Sarah Ludford said:

"Visa waiver for all the countries of ex-Yugoslavia is a vital step in their integration with the EU and paths towards membership. It will enable businesses to be competitive and ordinary people to widen their horizons by discovering the rest of Europe as students or tourists on visits."

"The fact that a staggering 70% of Serbian students have never left their country must have some relationship to the persistence of an introverted xenophobia. Freedom to travel can help foster an open outlook on the world."

"The security of the EU's borders is of great importance but so is the stability of our neighbouring region. Our visa and enlargement policies are powerful ways of fostering harmony in the greater European family."

"The way forward, which I believe MEPs will propose - is for Bosnia and Albania to be included in the scope of the current legal instrument, with implementation triggered once the European Commission attests to fulfilment of security and anti-crime requirements. It is then up to the governments of those countries to ensure they make the grade quickly."

ENDS

Note for editors:

This measure is not about immigration or freedom to work, only short-term travel for business, study or tourism.

The proposal is controversial because nationals of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo are not included, the first two because they have been judged not yet to meet the required security standards and Kosovo because of its disputed legal status. The fear is of a threat to regional stability from perceived unfairness and divisive treatment. With Croat nationals already enjoying visa waiver and Serbians having it from January, Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats who acquire dual passports will be able to travel freely to the EU leaving other Bosnians - mainly Muslim Bosniaks - still trapped in visa queues.