Sarah speaks about visas for the Western Balkans

Sarah Ludford on behalf of the ALDE Group. - Madam President the ALDE Group firmly and consistently supports the goal of EU accession for all the Western Balkan countries. We are aiming to equip their citizens to join an integrated free movement area with a single market and common values.

Freedom of short-term travel is a vital part of preparation for that. The Commission and the Council obviously share that goal so why on earth has the Commission managed to put forward such an ill-judged and divisive proposal?

The Liberal Group certainly does not want to undermine the pressure for high standards of passport and border security and the rule of law more generally but this exercise has to be fair consistent and effective. It is not as if there are no anomalies at present. For instance Serbia and Montenegro have been included in the July proposal: although they did not meet the benchmarks at the date of the proposal they are expected to do so in the future. Then there is the requirement for biometric passports of which Bosnia has now issued 40 000 by the way; but Croatians who have benefited from visa-free travel for some time do not need one.

We are saying that Serbia's stabilisation and association agreement cannot be progressed while Mladić stays hidden since it shows lack of control over the security services. But for visa waiver they are deemed to meet the requirements of Block 3: Public order and security - some contradiction here.

The way to keep Bosnia and Albania up to the mark would be to include them in the legal scope of this proposed regulation but to make the actual implementation of visa waiver conditional on a Commission declaration of compliance - in fact similar to that which the Commission needs to make this autumn about Serbia and Montenegro. The process would be exactly the same though a bit later.

Any prolonged delay for Bosnia and Albania and the complete exclusion of Kosovo will have very divisive and detrimental consequences encouraging the search for Croatian Serbian or in the case of Kosovans Macedonian passports and undermining the integrity and governance of Bosnia and Kosovo in particular. I cannot believe the Commission and the Council intend to pursue this damaging path.

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