EU justice and home affairs ministers are expected to give the go-ahead at the end of the month for citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia to visit most EU countries without a visa. The new rules, which concern travel to members of the Schengen area, will come into force on 19 December.
Members of the European Parliament gave their approval to the changes in a vote last week (12 November).
The MEPs were unhappy that Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo were excluded from a proposal for ministers, drafted by the European Commission and made public on 15 July.
In its resolution, passed with 550 MEPs in favour, 51 against and 37 abstaining, the Parliament asked that Albania and Bosnia be included in the scheme as soon as they meet the technical criteria, and that talks should commence with Kosovo on proposals for visa-free travel.
Diplomats suggested that Albania and Bosnia could be included in the scheme as early as autumn next year, if they continue to make progress on issues such as document security and curbing illegal migration.
The Lisbon treaty gives the European Parliament co-decision power on visa policy, but since it comes into force on 1 December, the day after the justice ministers are to approve the visa proposal, the Lisbon rules will not apply to this decision. However, member states’ diplomats said that it was advisable to listen to the concerns raised by MEPs.
In a joint statement, MEPs and the Council of Ministers asked the Commission to prepare legislative proposals on the inclusion of Albania and Bosnia as soon as each country met the benchmarks, and committed themselves to examine such a proposal “as a matter of urgency”.
However, citizens of Kosovo – whose independence has not been recognised by Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain – have little prospect of visiting the EU without visas any time soon.
A senior official in Bosnia said that waiting for another six months would not be a major problem for its citizens, but warned that any further delay would create the impression of discrimination by the EU against citizens of the three countries. Bosnia has a Muslim plurality while Albania and Kosovo have Muslim majorities.
Jelko Kacin, a liberal MEP from Slovenia, said that it would be “divisive, unfair and create instability” if these countries were left out of the visa scheme for a long time.