- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- All Balkan Countries
Hopes are high in Albania and Bosnia that Monday's EU meeting will grant visa-free travel to citizens of the two Balkan countries.
European Union interior ministers, meeting on Monday, are expected to approve lifting the visa regime on Albanian and Bosnian nationals, after the two countries took a number of measures over the past year to improve the security of their passports and borders.
"We feel like we're in a cage, but now I hope the cage doors will open," Sead Prasovic, 50, a Sarajevo restaurant owner told Balkan Insight. "We will no longer be the only peoples in the region banned from travelling freely in Europe," he added.
Last December, the EU extended visa-free travel to citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. But Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia were left off the list as a result of failures to meet the necessary criteria.
The European Parliament earlier this month decided to end visa restrictions for the two countries after assessing their progress in fulfilling technical requirements. A final decision now requires the backing of EU interior ministers.
“I believe the decision to lift visa restrictions on us will be taken," 31-year-old Sarajevan Adisa Skejic said. "Even if lack of money prevents me from traveling to Europe, the knowledge that I can do it will give me a sense of freedom," she added.
Albanians were also optimistic about the prospect of traveling more freely in Western Europe, with some suggesting that it will open up new business opportunities.
"If I get in touch with a supplier for my business outside Albania, the visa procedure will no longer be such a barrier,” Joni, a 30-year-old graphic designer from Tirana, said.
Elvis, a marketing manager in Tirana, said the time had come for the EU to open its doors to Albanians. "This is something we have been waiting for," he said. "Freedom to travel freely is something welcomed by everyone."
Assuming the measure wins the backing of EU interior ministers, it could become effective on December 15, several media outlets in the region said, quoting sources in Brussels.
While travel agents gear up to cash in on Albanians traveling westwards, experts say the outflow of currency may harm the struggling local economy.
Kosovo’s government stresses that it has fulfilled the criteria set by the European Commission on visa liberalisation, as it gears up for an expected EC mission in December.