EU interior ministers today (8 November) decided to lift visa requirements for citizens of Albania and of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The rules will come into force in mid-December. They apply to holders of biometric passports wishing to visit the Schengen area of borderless travel, which includes most of the EU, for up to three months.
Their Balkan neighbours Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia had their visa requirements lifted a year ago.
A spike in asylum applications, especially from Macedonia and Serbia, following last year’s lifting of visa requirements had heightened apprehension on the part of France, Germany and the Netherlands about lifting visa requirements for Albania and Bosnia. But all 27 member states eventually accepted the European Commission’s assessment that the technical conditions for visa-free travel had been met.
Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, said: “It is of the utmost importance that Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to intensify their information campaign with the aim to properly explain to their citizens the meaning of short-term visa-free travel and what it entails, in particular warning against misuse for purposes incompatible with visa-free travel.” She said that the Commission had set up a post-visa monitoring process.
Kosovo is now the only Balkan country whose citizens still need visas to visit the Schengen area.
“We put an end to long queues in front of consulates and we tore down the walls that were dividing families and friends,” said Tanja Fajon, a centre-left Slovenian MEP who had steered the legislation through the European Parliament. Fajon said that member states’ fears of a massive influx were unjustified. “People who wanted to leave the country already did so and we also know that criminals have no borders and visas are no threat to them,” she said.