Visa liberalisation is a clear example of a successful EU policy, which will increase mobility and improve the institutional environment in the Western Balkans.
The EU’s objective is to improve law enforcement and migration controls through a conditional offer of visa-free travel to the Schengen Area. The payoff is greater security linked to the alignment of standards on everything from biometric passports to border crossings. For instance, the introduction of higher-quality personal identification documents helps prevent identity fraud and combat transnational crime, which remains one of the challenges to the region and the EU. Inclusion into the “positive” or “white list” countries whose citizens can travel freely into the Schengen zone without a visa also improves cooperation between the law enforcement authorities in the EU and their Western Balkan counterparts. It provides a clear incentive for governments in the region to upgrade governance standards in various areas to do with the free movement of people and encourages regional co-operation at the Balkan level by creating a single regulatory environment.
The EU made great progress in this area in 2010. The admission of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Albania into the “positive list” was a momentous event for both, as well as for the region as a whole. The EU acted with a high level of unity, despite the misgivings in some member states such as France, Germany (the interior ministry rather than the foreign ministry), Austria and the Netherlands. This is due to the impact of existing legislation at the supranational level, as well as the already well-established procedures and standards for extending visa-free travel to third countries. The accession of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia to the “white list” in December 2009 followed the path previously taken by BiH and Albania. The only point of division remains Kosovo: France and Germany have blocked the extension of a roadmap for visa liberalisation, effectively putting Prishtina in a separate basket from the rest of the Western Balkans.