DPA, November 30, 2009
EU ends visa restrictions on Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro
Brussels - Citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro will be able to travel to the European Union for Christmas after EU interior ministers on Monday agreed to lift visa requirements for the three Balkan states as of December 19. The three countries are keen to join the EU, and see the acquisition of visa-free travel as a key milestone on that route, as it implies EU approval of their own legal procedures.
"Citizens from these countries wishing to celebrate Christmas with their friends and relations in the Schengen area can now do so without needing visas. The links between these three countries and the EU have been strengthened," said Sweden's migration minister, Tobias Billstrom, who chaired the meeting in Brussels as holder of the EU's rotating presidency.
The EU's executive, the European Commission, recommended in October that citizens of the three countries who hold a modern biometric passport be granted visa-free travel by the year's end.
Interior ministers decided that the visa regime should be lifted on December 19 for holders of biometric passports who want to stay in the EU for less than 90 days within a six-month period.
The decision is likely to be welcomed in the three countries, but to be criticized in Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which the commission in October said were not ready for visa-free travel.
Complaint is expected to be especially vocal in Bosnia, where Bosnian Muslims say that the decision would leave them the only group who cannot travel to the EU. Ethnic Serbs will be able to do so by obtaining a Serbian passport, while ethnic Croats who hold Croatian passports can already do so.
However, EU officials say that Bosnia's woes are of its own making, since the political stalemate in the country has deadlocked crucial administrative reforms.