Delivered in Plenary - 6th October 2010
Visa liberalisation is an important step for any country seeking a closer relationship with the European Union. Making it easier for bona fide citizens of third countries to visit the EU, for business and tourism, is an important part of integrating these countries with our own Union.
The positive experience of extending visa liberalisation to Montenegro – for which I had the privilege of being the rapporteur of this Parliament – to Serbia and to Macedonia, has given extra momentum to these countries’ aspirations for EU membership. However, we must eventually give all countries in the western Balkans an equal opportunity to achieve this status if they qualify for it. After all, this is nothing more than what they used to enjoy in the days of the former Yugoslavia.
Extending visa liberalisation now to Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina is therefore a natural progression of a long-standing strategic policy which I welcome on behalf of my group. But we should be insistent on all of these countries reaching and maintaining high standards of passport biometric security. Visa liberalisation is a privilege and not an automatic right which can be taken for granted.
As for Kosovo, concerns still remain about the quality of passport security and organised crime. Until these questions are fully answered, Kosovo must necessarily remain outside the scope of our policies. But I, for one, am not opposed in principle to Kosovo eventually achieving visa liberalisation. Even though five EU countries do not recognise it, this alone should not be a reason not to grant Kosovo as a territory the right to freedom of travel to the European Union. No EU Member State recognises Taiwan, a territory for which I happen to be the President of the Friendship Group of this Parliament, but nevertheless our Union is shortly expected – and rightly so – to grant visa-free privileges to Taiwanese nationals. So Kosovo, a bit like Taiwan, should enjoy the same privileges eventually when the time is right.