European Union strikes visa deal with Balkan countries

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On Friday, 13 April 2007, the European Union signed visa agreements with Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The agreement is expected to simplify the cost and procedures for nationals of the three Balkan countries to travel to the EU.

The agreement was signed during a meeting between the European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom, and Security and the Interior Ministers of the three countries about security in the region. The deal also included "readmission agreements," which require the Balkan nations to take back any citizens found to be in the EU illegally.

The hope is that the agreements will make it easier for citizens of Balkan countries - especially students, business people, journalists, and researchers - to acquire visas and make them cheaper to attain while at the same time combating illegal immigration.

Some travelers may apply for multiple entry visas, notably students and business travelers, as well as journalists.

Franco Frattini, the EU justice commissioner, who was in Croatia for the agreement, said the EU's willingness to simplify visa procedures is "tangible proof" that the EU considers countries of the western Balkans as prospective members.

Many of the Balkan countries have expressed interest in joining the European Union, but none have yet met the various targets set to comply with current policies and treaty requirements. Croatia is on-track join in the next couple of years, but Macedonia has made little progress in the past two years.

Ursula Plassnik, Foreign Minister for Austria, is happy about the agreement and believes that is shows that the EU listens and understands the concerns of the Balkan countries.

"We have to go step by step and work on the European perspective for the Balkans patiently and with political will on both sides," said Plassnik.

The visa procedures and agreements relating to illegal immigration relate to the entire EU, except for Britain and Ireland.

Serbia is in the closing stages of talks on the same subject, and Macedonia has finished similar negotiations with the 27 member bloc on 12 April 2007.


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