As the European Parliament was voting resolutions on Serbia and Kosovo yesterday (16 January), the Kosovar EU affairs minister called for accelerating her country’s integration with the EU.
Kosovo, which gained its independence from Serbia six years ago, is the region's only country whose citizens cannot travel freely in the EU's borderless zone, the Schengen area.
The country is lagging behind other Balkan states on EU integration issues, both for domestic reasons and because its complicated international status raises political concerns in countries such as Spain, which fears that recognising the former Serbian province might encourage secessionist movements at home.
Slow visa liberalisation process
Despite calls from the EU Parliament and the Kosovar government to speed up the visa liberalisation process with Pristina, the European Commission has so far drafted only one report and sent one monitoring mission to the country, Çitaku told the press yesterday.
“1.7 million Kosovars are fully isolated. We know that this is not 2009 when all the region got visa free regime, we know that Europe has changed since then, but since the dialogue was launched, we only had one report and one mission even though we’ve delivered on everything required,” she said.
Unlike its neighbours, Kosovo was given more than a hundred conditions to fulfill, the minister said.
“It’s fine, they serve us as a guiding instrument, we don’t take it personally, but we would like the Commission to be more responsive, we just want more interaction,” she said.
Her position is shared by a majority of MEPs, who today called on the EU to accelerate its integration processes with Pristina and avoid putting the country on “some separate accession track to other Balkan countries.”
Despite an agreement with Serbia on 19 April, hailed as “historic” by the international community, and aimed at normalising relations between the two former foes, tensions are still running high.
Killing of Serbian politician under investigation
A local Serb politician, Dimitrije Janićijević, was gunned down outside his apartment yesterday (16 January) in the town of Mitrovica.
The Kosovar police and the EU's police mission in Kosovo, EULEX, are investigating the case. But the murder is already labeled by media and officials alike as an attempt by hardliners to destabilise the normalisation efforts between the two parties and to jeopardise the fragile EU deal brokered in April.
The northern part of Kosovo is inhabited in majority by Serbs over which Belgrade had full control for years.
“After 15 years we see a change in politics in Serbia. The situation in the North is the outcome of Belgrade’s politics for year, they’ve financed and fed all structures and now they have to face the monster they’ve created,” Çitaku said, stressing that the Kosovar governments had no plans to “assimilate the Serbs in the North”, but rather to “integrate them.”
“We don’t seek to extend our authority but our services to the North,” she detailed, explaining that two-thirds of the Serbs in Kosovo live in the South where they are “very well integrated and represented”.
The Serb prime minister, Ivica Dačić, said that the killing of Janićijević would have consequences.
“Every destabilisation attempt threatens to destroy the peace and stability of the citizens,” he warned, adding that Belgrade would help investigating the murder and finding the perpetrator.
EU negotiations start
The EU also called for a full investigation of the murder and in no case puts in question Belgrade’s EU progress.
The country will formally begin accession negotiations with the European Union on 21 January, and experts believe it should not take more than seven years for the country to join the 28-member bloc.
However, Serbia still faces serious reform challenges - including on corruption, organised crime and economic reforms.
“The Serbian constitution still regards Kosovo as an organic part of the country’s territory. Serbia must [also] address the centralising mindset that plays such a strong role in policy-making,” said György Schöpflin, a lawmaker from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), after the adoption of a resolution on Serbia in the European Parliament.