WHEN WILL THE LAST VISA WALL IN THE WEST BALKANS FALL

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Tanja Fajon (SD/S&D), Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Member of the EP Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Member of the EP Committee on Transport and Tourism and EP Rapporteur for visa liberalisation of West Balkan states, has presented her view on the fall of the last visa walls in the West Balkans. Her article entitled "WHEN WILL THE LAST VISA WALL IN THE WEST BALKANS FALL" is here published in its entirety.

Tanja Fajon
Tanja FAJON, MEP,

  • Member of the European Parliament (SD/S&D)
  • Member of the EP Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
  • Member of the EP Committee on Transport and Tourism
  • EP Rapporteur for visa liberalisation of West Balkan states

WHEN WILL THE LAST VISA WALL IN THE WEST BALKANS FALL

CREDIBILITY AT TEST

“It's too good to be true,” one of my MEP colleagues said recently at the presentation delivered in Brussels by Albanian Interior Minister Lulzim Basha on Albania's readiness for visa liberalisation. Is Albania really mature or will it close its door to Europe in the next weeks due to the tense political situation and the opposition's calls for anti-government protests at the end of this month?

What are the outlooks for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has found itself in an even more isolated position since the visa walls fell in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia in December last year? The holders of Croatian and Serbian passports as well as the politicians and businessmen are already able to travel freely, while those with less money and the Bosniaks still have to stand in long queues at embassies. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the pre-election campaign for October parliamentary elections has kicked off and will reach its peak in the summer months when the timetable for visa liberalisation is to be known at the latest. Numerous politicians are already exploiting the process of visa liberalisation for scoring their political points.

And who is actually thinking about the people? Let's forget political games and the fight for power. During the past few months, both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania made considerable progress in fulfiling technical conditions for visa liberalisations. In the last few months they have finally achieved what they could have done perhaps a year ago. Obviously the European carrot and open door policy or the self-interest of domestic politicians have proven to be efficient, since visa removal is after all the most tangible asset Europe can offer to the people.

THE CITIZENS ARE LOSING THEIR TRUST IN DOMESTIC POLITICS

Anyhow, the decision is important for the people and it is the people who will decide about their future. Visa liberalisation is of special importance for young people, for future generations and for those who do not have enough money to buy the ticket to the West. The freedom of movement is the fundamental freedom of every European citizen. How can the people understand European values, if it is so difficult and constrained to travel only a few hundred kilometres away from home. The people deserve, more than ever before, encouraging news from Brussels since under the present tense political situation they are losing their trust in both domestic and European politics.

During the past few months I had the opportunity to travel to the capitals of all five West Balkan states where I met numerous representatives of the highest political circles, businessmen, representatives of NGOs and the civil society. The people wrote their letters of support to me and described their tragic life stories. Young people asked me when they would be able to travel freely to Europe. I believe that many still suffer injustice. The European Union should not delay the removal of the last visa walls. Every month counts and eventual lack of political will could seriously jeopardise the credibility of EU-27.

NO MORE BLANKS ON THE MAP OF THE WEST BALKANS

In the European Parliament we are constantly exerting pressure both on the local leaders and the European institutions to carry out their respective part of the task without delay, since by dividing the states into good and bad ones we risk creating even more division and instability in the region. We wanted to remove the visa regime already this summer and to find the appropriate solution for the citizens of Kosovo as soon as possible. We can not afford having any blanks on the map of the West Balkans which sometimes seems like a mosaic in which only one wrong peace would change the picture completely. However, July seems less and less realistic, and there are various reasons for this. Some EU member states were put of by a wave of asylum seekers from Macedonia and Serbia, on which it was reported especially in Belgium and Swiss at the beginning of the year. Others were perhaps deterred due to bitter experiences from the past. The European Union has been shaken by the economic and financial crisis and there are more important topics on the European agenda than the new round of visa liberalisation which some would even prefer to postpone until Ukraine, Russia or even Turkey would be ready for it. Isn't that absurd?

VISA LIBERALISATION – A PRIORITY OR A NON-PRIORITY ISSUE

There are not many who are seriously dealing with the politics towards the West Balkans, Slovenia undoubtedly being one of them. The new European Commission has only just taken up its work. The experts' estimate will be known at the end of April and if everything goes well the legislative proposal on visa liberalisation for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania will be put on the table in end-May. However, both countries will probably undergo another test, since the EU may send new expert groups there to examine the situation. Due to a lack of political will in EU member states or their doubts regarding the readiness of the two respective states, one may justifiably wonder who is losing credibility in this case – the responsible politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania who claim to have done everything for the visa liberalisation process, or the European Union who agreed last year that visa liberalisation for the last two states of the West Balkans would be a priority issue on its agenda?

It is therefore not surprising that people are losing their trust and that the divide between the politics, institutions and the citizens is getting ever larger.

Ljubljana, 16 April 2010



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