The EU Commission said on Thursday that Bosnians and Albanians should be offered visa-free access to the European Union's Schengen zone, as long as their nations address some outstanding security issues.
The message, delivered just days ahead of an EU-Balkans foreign ministers' meeting in Sarajevo on June 2, is a big boost to the two countries' hopes of joining the European Union.
When the Council of Europe agreed late last year to grant visa-free travel to the citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, they left out two other countries in the region: Albania and Bosnia.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is grappling with tensions between its Serb, Moslem and Croat groups and Albania has just emerged from a political stalemate with the opposition ending a boycott of parliamentary activities.
Progress is still needed in some areas
EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fule, said that the Commission's decision "will contribute to making the European perspective more tangible" in countries where political instability is a key concern.
The EU Home Affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmstroem, said in a statement that "granting visa-free travel is a cornerstone of the EU's integration policy for the western Balkans."
Malmstroem said that both countries had taken major steps in recent months toward meeting EU requirements, such as issuing biometric passports and tightening border controls.
She stressed, however, that further action was 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 EU 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.
Editor: Susan Houlton