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What’s in for Albania?

Visa-free access into the Schengen zone

, by Allan Siao Ming Witherick

A proposal to allow visa-free access to the Europe’s Schengen zone for citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina has been approved by the EU Ministers of Interior on November 8, 2010. Schengen visa-free access is supposed to be put into practice in mid-December. Personal and press reactions to the novelty.


  • JEF Presidium Member and former layout editor for the printed edition of The New Federalist. As a local Liberal Democrat Councillor he currently represents the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

In the run-up to the JEF-Europe Federal Committee (the European level of the Young European Federalists) in Malta two interesting issues were raised. One was that a potential bureau member was refused a visa to attend the event. The other was a Conference and Seminar discussing some of the issues of migration and the difficulties it posed.

During one of the panel debates, a discussion took place about the purpose and charges visas might be linked to and what the effects were. Historical ties between countries might lead to favourable visa prices, while barriers might be lowered to increase tourism. Yet the actual costs of processing a visa vary hugely from country to country and this must also be reflected in the fee or be transferred to the native tax payer. A visa can also become an “entry tax” in its own right. So already it becomes a complex picture.

A few weeks later I found myself in Tirana where, overnight, suddenly there are signs and posters proclaiming the great news that Albania has joined the countries which can enter the Schengen zone without a visa. Politicians seem to consider it a big issue for the country, both in Albania and the rest of Europe. In reality most people I saw were vaguely bemused. Many of them had been to the Schengen zone already and some said that a UK visa was far more difficult to get and as a result less interesting as a tourist destination, the net result - no change of plans, travel or otherwise. But then perhaps for the politicians it is a more significant step towards EU membership.

Overnight, suddenly there are signs and posters proclaiming the great news that Albania has joined the countries which can enter the Schengen zone without a visa.

This is a step, but it is not like joining the Schengen zone. There are ample examples of countries, like Norway, who are members of Schengen but not of the EU, and the UK which is a member of the EU but not of Schengen. This seems to reflect that the UK historically has better links with the other members of the Commonwealth, and that, were it to join the Schengen zone some of those bilateral arrangements might be put at risk.

This is a step, but also one which might be pushed back. There were warnings in the press releases after the announcement that showed, should there be problems, it would be simple enough to reinstate the visa agreement for Albania.

So why this step forward, whilst Turkey still waits in the wings? All of the other candidates and potential candidates for EU membership in the region are covered now and only Kosovo remains outside the visa agreement. This shows that exceptions can be made when things get messy (Cyprus, Macedonia etc), but is the political will there too?

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Image: Tirana, Albania (November 8, 2010)

Your comments

  • On 20 November 2010 at 14:13, by free visas for all Replying to: What’s in for Albania?

    Well the people that you saw that had already a visa won’t be affected it is true. However, not everyone can pay a 70 euro visa considering that a round trip flight from Albania to the EU is around 300 euros. That is already one third of the costs.

    This is also a symbolic thing. Finally this invisible wall will be brought down, I don’t imagine you have ever needed to obtain a visa in a Balkan country, I can assure you the experience is not fun. Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end from this subdivision between EU citizens and other Europeans who are in fact considered simply as second class citizens. Unfortunately the UK still keeps their rather ignorant policy of being outside schengen and therefore for those that will need to go to the UK the process remains as difficult as ever. Which ironically is bad for the UK, because most tourists, especially the chinese, get a schengen visa and don’t bother with a UK one because there is simply no sense. Why waste more money and time when you can already visit so many places around Europe already. This in turn creates huges losses in tourism for the UK. Visa liberalization is also beneficial to EU states to get more flux of money coming from people seeking tourism, medical care, etc etc..

  • On 24 November 2010 at 01:14, by Allan Siao Ming Witherick Replying to: What’s in for Albania?

    I don’t deny that we may have lost tourism from some countries exactly as you say, but that’s why I flagged up our historical links. Europe is 27 countries, which can all enter the UK without hindrance. The Commonwealth is more than double this, and so does represent a substantial proportion of the planet to have a special relationship with! Would the Schengen countries open up their borders to the countries we have special relationships with?

    The UK has around 80 nationalities which have the right to vote- that’s very different to say Latvia which doesn’t even let non-citizens who’ve lived there all their lives, and sometimes for generations, vote.

    You also have to bear in mind that our health service is different from other countries. It’s free for natives, which does make health tourism a real problem. That’s part of why our country keeps its own borders. But we don’t want ID cards, and we don’t want to change it so that you have to pay when you visit accident and emergency.

    So you see a visa is just part of a complex picture.

    As to second class citizens- you are only second class if you choose to be. The UK has no Euro, no Schengen, a land border only with Ireland, incredibly poor language skills, but it does not make us second class.

    And I have had fun getting visas in the past, having had them refused etc.

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