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European Parliament foreign affairs committee backs visa liberalisation for all Western Balkan countries

October 12, 2009 12:09 PM

The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs committee last Tuesday backed by an overwhelming majority (51 to 8) Sarah Ludford's position to amend a European Commission legislative proposal concerning visa liberalisation for short-term travel for the citizens of Balkan countries.

The committee voted to include within the scope of one legal instrument all five Western Balkan countries which have the perspective of eventual EU entry and already have visa facilitation and readmission agreements (Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Albania), but with staggered implementation of visa waiver depending strictly on fulfilment of document integrity, border management and law enforcement criteria. This approach varies from that of the European Commission in that the latter would require a new legal proposal next year for visa waiver for Bosnia and Albania.

The committee also approved the opening of a visa dialogue with Kosovo so as to establish a 'visa liberalisation roadmap' similar to the others.

Sarah Ludford said: "MEPs have sent a very powerful signal of support for EU visa-free travel for all the people of the Western Balkans with a streamlining of the legal formalities. But it must be stressed that the lifting of the visa requirement can in practice only happen when the countries meet the necessary security standards. The ball is in the court of those governments and the citizens of Bosnia and Albania must press them to fulfil the EU benchmarks with all speed."

"On Kosovo, I hope we can find a solution which is pragmatic in advancing the prospect for Kosovars of also achieving visa facilitation and then liberalisation, while accommodating the different legal points of view of EU member states on the independence issue."

ENDS

Notes to Editors

This proposal concerns visa-free travel to the EU's Schengen zone, to which the majority of EU countries belong, though the UK does not. Therefore the UK makes its own decisions about which countries' nationals require visas and as far as is known, there is no corresponding UK proposal to waive the visa requirement for citizens of Western Balkan countries.