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Sarah's speech to the European Parliament on visa-free travel for the Western Balkans

November 11, 2009 4:55 PM
By Sarah Ludford in the European Parliament

Sarah Ludford, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. − Madam President, the commitment supported in the Fajon report and backed by the proposed Council and Parliament declaration is a far-sighted one. It is to give visa-free travel to all the people of the Western Balkans. This is not solely a generous and altruistic move. It is also hard-headed and shrewd, since security in the widest sense of the word will be promoted and advanced. People who are free, and free to travel, tend to be committed to peaceful solutions and less prey to introverted nationalism which is a security threat.

Who can fail to be moved by the images on the screens outside this Chamber and all the celebrations we have had this week marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall? While these obstacles cannot be compared to the Wall, they are still a barrier to the free communication and wider horizons that promote understanding and tolerance. Our insistence on an inclusive approach should include a fair result by the 15th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement.

I would like to congratulate and thank the rapporteur, Mrs Fajon, for her hard work and the way that she has included all the nuances in every twist and turn of her deliberations over the last two months.

I do also thank the Council, and especially the Swedish Presidency, for their work in helping us to get agreement on the declaration, which confirms the definite aim of visa liberalisation for all the citizens of the Western Balkans as soon as possible - and we hope that this will be during 2010, because the absence of a reasonable commonality in the target dates for achieving this free travel is divisive and creates instability.

We also have made a commitment, in the Fajon report, to working for a visa-facilitation and visa-liberalisation road map for Kosovo similar to those for the other Western Balkan countries.

I would also like to add the hope that the Government of the United Kingdom - which is not included in the present decision of the EU Schengen zone by virtue, of course, of not being a member - will also shortly follow the same path. I always feel a certain schizophrenia when working on these matters on the Schengen projects because I am a British MEP, but it obviously would be a good thing both for the European Union and for the Western Balkan region if the UK were to follow suit as quickly as possible.

I would like to conclude by thanking Mrs Fajon, the rapporteur.