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Albania and Bosnia are soon to join other Balkan countries in enjoying visa-free travel to the European Union, EU interior ministers announced Monday. The ministers also discussed plans to tighten air cargo security.
Albanians and Bosnians may enter the EU for three months
Interior ministers of the European Union's 27 member states unanimously agreed on Monday to eliminate visa requirements for citizens of Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Under the agreement, Albanians and Bosnians with biometric passports would be able to travel to the 25 EU nations in the border-free Schengen zone, which excludes Ireland and the United Kingdom, for up to three months.
The decision came after France, Germany and the Netherlands expressed concerns that there could be an increase in unfounded asylum claims from the two countries.
The EU got rid of visa requirements for Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia late last year, apparently leading to an influx of asylum seekers from Serbia and Macedonia.
European Commission could roll back decision
The EU has seen an influx of asylum seekers from Serbia and Macedonia
The ministers stipulated that the European Commission could "propose the suspension of visa-free travel" if it felt that citizens of the two countries were abusing the system.
"It is of the utmost importance that Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina continue to intensify their information campaign with the aim to properly explain to their citizens the meaning of short-term visa-free travel," Cecilia Malmstrom, EU commissioner for home affairs, said in a statement. "A visa-free regime also comes with responsibilities."
Malmstrom said the European Parliament and the bloc's member states must still approve the proposal, and that it could enter into force as early as mid-December.
It would leave Kosovo, whose independence is not recognized by all EU states, as the only Balkan country without visa-free travel in the EU.
Both Bosnia and Albania hope to join the EU, but face years of tough democratic reforms before they will likely be able to do so.
Stricter rules on cargo security
EU interior ministers also discussed plans to tighten air cargo security in the aftermath of a string of EU-bound parcel bombs originating from Yemen and Greece last week. For instance, airports with inadequate security measures could appear on a blacklist.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said security concerns should trump fears over extra costs due to increased control procedures.
"If this is going to be more expensive, then it might be a little more expensive. There is no security for free", de Maiziere told reporters before presenting his five key points to his EU colleagues.
According to de Maiziere, the EU must focus on coordination before halting cargo shipments, agree on which countries are to be considered unsafe freight senders, improve security in those unsafe airports, tighten controls on suspect parcels and define responsibilities between commercial shippers and national authorities.
"There is no security for free," says de Maiziere
The German proposal was welcomed by Belgian Interior Minister Annemie Turtelboom who is in charge of chairing the EU meeting.
"When we see everything that happened last week, we must really discuss how we can travel together, work together and how we can work together not only with the United States but also with some countries in Africa," she said.
Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba called measures on enhancing security coordination "an ever more pressing need" for EU countries.
But Siim Kallas, EU transport commissioner, warned on Friday that panic should not lead to an excessive increase of security measures.
"The fight against terrorism is eternal, and aviation remains the most sensitive target for such attacks, but panic is not the remedy," he said. "We must find a proportionate and adequate response."
De Maiziere wants to implement a working group which is due to get results by the end of this year.
Author: Andrew Bowen, Sarah Steffen (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler