Visa requirement lifted for two Balkan states

Switzerland will open its borders to allow people from Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina to enter the country without visas as part of a European-wide agreement.

This content was published on November 8, 2010 - 16:45 and agencies

Interior ministers from across the continent met in Brussels on Monday and agreed to waive visas for entering a bloc of 25 countries, the so-called Schengen Zone.

Switzerland will also adopt the measures as a Schengen member state. However, some EU countries like the Netherlands and France want to monitor the programme closely to watch for security, criminal and corruption concerns.

Albanian authorities welcomed the “historic decision”, which should enter into effect in mid-December.

“This has been the biggest dream of Albanians since the collapse of communism and the Berlin Wall,” Sali Berisha, the Albanian prime minister said. “We guarantee all EU members that Albania and its authorities will assume responsibility to earn the confidence afforded to them.”

Some EU members have feared that a visa-free programme could increase illegal immigration and trafficking. Three other Balkan countries – Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro – have had visa-free entry since last year. But because of asylum requests from some Macedonians and Serbs, the EU has warned that the visa-free policy could be suspended.

The meeting marked the first official trip to Brussels for Simonetta Sommaruga. The newly elected Swiss justice minister took the time to explain to her counterparts a measure on the November 28 ballot that calls for the deportation of foreign criminals. She said she also explained the Swiss government's counter proposal.

The measure, if passed as is, would violate agreements signed with the EU governing the freedom of movement, legal experts say.

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