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London MEP Sarah Ludford urges visa-free travel for Balkan citizens

October 7, 2010 3:02 PM

The European Parliament has voted by an overwhelming majority to approve a European Commission proposal to grant visa-free travel to the EU's Schengen zone for nationals of Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Most EU states plus 3 non-EU states belong to Schengen but the UK does not since it maintains its own border controls.

The ball is now in the court of the Council of Ministers. A positive decision would mean that nationals of all the Western Balkan countries set on the path towards EU accession would enjoy this visa waiver, since those of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia made quicker progress in fulfilling EU security requirements and got it last year.

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

"The European Union is a project designed for security in the broadest sense through opening minds and horizons in order to build a continent of peace and prosperity. Visa-free travel will promote the European integration of Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina through widening the experience and outlook of its citizens and combating nationalism, conflict and ethnic hatred, thereby increasing security of EU citizens too."

"Visa waiver is of course a privilege not to be abused, only for short term tourist, visitor and business travel. The 2 states concerned having now - with a bit of delay - fulfilled all the required conditions concerning law enforcement, corruption and illegal migration, it would be a betrayal of a solemn 'road map' promise of long standing for any Schengen Member State to block it."

"I hope a positive Schengen experience will influence the UK government's expected visa review in favour of a similar possibility for Balkan citizens next year. Non-abuse of the scheme - which depends on responsible behaviour by those citizens and their governments as well as EU enforcement - will make it easier to persuade London to grant them visa-free travel too. I look forward to working with Tory colleagues in the European Parliament towards this objective."