Newsletter 3/2010 - Guest Commentator

Tanja Fajon
Member of European Parliament

Staying behind for too long can only strengthen nationalism: EU plans to open its door to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania by the end of 2010

After the cruel wars in the South East European countries that left very deep wounds and hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who fled their homes, we were for two decades witnessing the growth of a young generation, which was cut off from the unifying and prosperous European Union. The young people in the surrounding region were usually only travelling within (and sometimes between) their divided countries and were hardly ever able to enter the Union. The youngsters there often know as much about Europeans as they do about Americans – mostly from the internet and TV. The EU, which is supposed to become their Union, which pushes their administrations to reform, which wants them to believe that we are one European family, is still something abstract.

Only recently, in last December, the European Union abolished visas for the citizens of FYROM, Serbia and Montenegro. But 20 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, there are still dividing “visa walls” between the Union and the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo.

There is a growing scepticism in Europe towards the further enlargement to South East Europe. In the times of the financial and economic crises, which hit millions of people all over Europe, where many are afraid how they will survive tomorrow, it is becoming more and more difficult to defend the “enlargement project”. But remember – the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans is especially important for the younger generation. They are those who have the chance to overcome the disputes and the ethnic tensions from the past and build our common stable and democratic future.

Do we really want to keep the Union’s door shut to our close neighbours, to the countries which have experienced wars and the fight against poverty and which do their best to please us? With visa liberalization, we are not deciding about granting jobs or residential rights, we are deciding about the basic right of a future EU citizen to travel to the Union.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania have made an important progress in the last few months in the fulfilment of the benchmarks for visa liberalization. The European Commission recognized the progress and at the end of May this year issued the legislative proposal for visa liberalization for both countries. However, further action is needed to boost crime-fighting and anti-corruption efforts, create an electronic police database and ensure consistency of criminal codes at the national and regional levels. The Commission is scheduled to re-examine the progress made in the two countries in September. Under the most optimistic scenario, travel restrictions could then be lifted as early as October, but a more realistic timeline is November or December.

The European Parliament strongly supports visa liberalization for the citizens of the entire Western Balkans. 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 wish to finalize the process as soon as possible and vote on the report to grant Bosnians-Herzegovinians and Albanians visa free travel rights to the European Union’s Schengen zone late in September.

I believe that many people, mainly poor and students still suffer injustice and are often victims of their political elite. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the pre-election campaign for the October’s parliamentary elections has kicked off and will reach its peak in the summer months. Numerous politicians are already exploiting the process of visa liberalization for scoring their political points. Albania is for the last few months in a serious political crises and needs to solve it as soon as possible not to threaten the whole accession process to the EU. There are decisive weeks ahead of both countries. The responsible politicians should focus their efforts on fulfilling the last remaining issues before the visit of the EU experts, most likely in July.

The serious concern remains Kosovo. It is the only part of the Western Balkans which is completely left out of the visa liberalization process. This is naturally caused by a division among the Member States towards recognizing its independence. While understanding the political complexity of the problem, the people in Kosovo should not be left in a black hole created by disagreements. The EU needs to find a solution how to engage Kosovo in the process. It will push forward the necessary structural reforms.

The freedom of movement is a fundamental freedom of every European citizen. How can people understand European values, if it is so difficult and constrained to travel only a few hundred kilometres away from home. We, the European Union, have to take our political responsibility to finalize the visa liberalization process; the process of bringing the countries of the Western Balkans closer to the Union. It is about people in our direct neighbourhood, the quality of their lives, and better economic, political and cultural cooperation. If we really want to integrate all the countries of South East Europe in the Union, the younger generation, in particular, has to have a chance to travel and learn about it. Staying behind closed doors for too long can only strengthen nationalism and deepen ethnical divisions, which, before the wars, were practically non-existent.

Tanja Fajon has been a member of the European Parliament (EP) representing Slovenia since 2009. She is the Vice-Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee and a member of the EP’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. She is presently also a Rapporteur in the EP on the visa liberalization for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania.


Tanja Fajon, member of European Parliament (EP) and Rapporteur in the EP on visa liberalization for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. (Photo:

Tanja Fajon, member of European Parliament (EP) and Rapporteur in the EP on visa liberalization for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. (Photo: