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Europe

EU abolishes entry visas for three Balkan countries

The European Union has scrapped visa requirements for citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. But Bosnia and Albania are disapointed that the new rules do not apply to them.

A guard monitoring border traffic

Most Europeans enjoy visa-free travel, but borders are still monitored

Citizens of the three Balkan countries will be able to travel freely to any of the 25 EU member states, which are part of the so-called Schengen zone, after EU interior ministers agreed to lift previous visa restrictions.

The Schengen zone also includes three non-EU members - Iceland, Norway and Switzerland - but not Britain and Ireland.

Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro are eager to join the European Union and view the new visa-free travel options, which come into effect on December 19, as an important milestone toward that goal.

In October, the European Commission had recommended that any citizen of the three countries who holds a modern biometric passport be granted visa-free travel.

Before visa requirements were introduced in 1991, citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia enjoyed visa-free travel to Western Europe for 40 years as part of the Yugoslav Federation, the only communist country that permitted its citizens to travel freely abroad.

Signpost on the outskirts of Schengen

The travel accord was signed in Schengen, Luxembourg in 1985

Complaints from Albania and Bosnia

The interior ministers moved to lift the earlier restrictions in time for the Christmas holiday. The decision has drawn complaints from Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but EU ministers said those two countries were not ready for visa-free travel.

Bosnian Moslems say the decision leaves them as the only group which cannot travel to the EU without a visa. Ethnic Serbs in Bosnia can travel to the EU by obtaining a Serbian passport, while ethnic Croats in Bosnia, who hold Croatian passports, can already do so.

However, EU officials have rejected the criticism, saying that Bosnia's troubles are of its own making, since the political stalemate in the country has deadlocked key administrative reforms.

gb/AP/dpa
Editor: Michael Lawton

DW.DE