The European Commission recommended lifting visa requirements for citizens of Albania and Bosnia on Thursday, bringing them a step forward on their towards their European Union aspirations.
Both countries have been promised membership in the 27-member bloc, but they face years of tough preparations and have to overcome reluctance among some EU states to bring in new members at a time of economic difficulties.
The EU's home affairs chief Cecilia Malmstrom said Albania and Bosnia have met many EU requirements related to passport security and border controls but face more monitoring over the coming months to secure visa-free travel.
"A lot has been done already. There is little left to do and I trust the Albanian and Bosnian authorities will work so this can enter into force this fall," Malmstrom told reporters.
"I am quite optimistic somewhere in the autumn we can have this decision," she said.
Both will have to demonstrate stronger efforts to combat corruption and organised crime and to bolster law enforcement, before EU member states and the European Parliament clear the lifting of requirements. Votes on the issue are expected in the second half of 2010.
It would be an important step for Bosnia and Albania, with populations of roughly 3.8 million and 3 million respectively, because both are seen as EU laggards in the region.
Visa liberalisation is a key tool of the EU's policy of reinforcing stability in the Balkans and integrating the region with the bloc.
But applicants need to prove strong institutions able to deal with issues such as illegal immigration and trafficking. The Balkans are part of key drug routes to western Europe.
Last year, the EU lifted visa requirements for short-term travel for the citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.
Macedonia's efforts to join are blocked by a row with Greece over the country's name, while Montenegro and Albania have submitted their applications but have yet to earn candidate status. Bosnia is particularly troubled by deep political divisions stemming from ethnic differences.
Malmstrom reiterated the Commission was monitoring developments in Kosovo, since it broke away from Serbia two years ago, but the country was not ready for visa-free travel. "We are not there, yet," she said.
She also said any fears of a surge in the number of people seeking asylum in some EU member states, due to visa liberalisation, were unfounded. She said a rise in applications after the lifting of visas for for three Balkan states in December was temporary.
"We consider the visa liberalisation process has not been put into question by these applications. They were isolated."
ReutersLast Mod: 28 Mayıs 2010, 17:15