EU criticised for foot dragging on Kosovo
As tensions rise again in Kosovo after the killing of a Serbian politician in the North, the country's minister in charge of EU affairs, Vlora Çitaku, called on the EU to be more “responsive” towards her newly-formed state.
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.
The candidate status for EU membership was accorded to Serbia in March 2012. The European Commission proposed the launching of negotiations when the conditions for the practical improvement of relations between Belgrade and Pristina are met.
Serbia does not recognise the independence Kosovo declared in 2008. Among the demands some of the EU member states are setting before Serbia is the disbanding of Serb institutions in North Kosovo, which is inhabited by a Serb majority.
Belgrade and Pristina reached an agreement on normalizing relations, with EU mediation in Brussels on April 19.
The agreement envisages the establishment of an Association of Serb Municipalities and the annulment of current Serbian institutions in Kosovo, which was a process due to be finished after local elections in Kosovo in the Autumn 2013.
Michele Cercone, spokesperson for EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, sent a written reaction to EurActiv saying that:
“The European Commission is fully committed to the visa dialogue with Kosovo. There have been three 'Senior Official Meetings' (SOM) with Kosovo Ministers since the launch of the Visa Dialogue in January 2012.
The Commission has already assessed legislation in all four blocks, which fed into the first comprehensive assessment in February 2013 .
It assessed the state of implementation in readmission, reintegration, asylum, migration and document security in December 2013 and expert reports will be shared with the government (as in the past). The Commission is currently considering another mission to Kosovo to assess the state of implementation in fight against organised crime, corruption and integrated border management. Kosovo faces particular challenges in these areas. Moreover, the EULEX strategic review, with a potential impact on competences in this field, is currently under way. The outcome of these two missions will feed into next comprehensive Commission assessment.
The Commission will also consider organising another Senior Official Meeting.
The visa dialogue is a merit-based process. Kosovo needs to comply with all benchmarks in the roadmap and demonstrate that visa liberalisation would not pose any migratory or security risk to the EU before the Commission can propose lifting the visa obligation. The Commission will only do so at the appropriate moment.”
EU parliament rapporteur on Serbia Jelko Kacin (Slovenia, Liberals) said: “By signing the April Agreement Serbia opened the way for a full normalisation of relations with Kosovo. Furthermore, I want to reiterate that this is not about Serbia's formal membership in the EU. It is all about the journey towards Brussels and an effective implementation of EU-related reforms. The rule of law, a market-based economy, the reform of public administration and the modernization of the education system are tangible results of the accession process which will be felt by all Serbian citizens.”
The European People's Party (EPP) group’s rapporteur on Serbia said “It is necessary to advance the accession of the Republic of Kosovo, which has so far established diplomatic relations with 104 out of 193 UN Member States, to the Council of Europe. After the basic understanding between Serbia and Kosovo, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU is the second important step on which the country can build a stable political and economic future."
The Green's rapporteur on Kosovo, Ulrike Lunacek (Austria) warned that “The EU should accelerate the process that will lead to visa liberalisation for Kosovo, the only country in the region whose citizens are not allowed to travel freely to the EU. In this sense it is particularly welcome that the EP has again issued a clear call to the five recalcitrant EU member states who have not yet recognised the state of Kosovo to do so without delay. Clearly, there is a need to be vigilant in monitoring the progress in both countries. Corruption remains a major problem in Kosovo, as it is in the entire region, and this must be addressed.”
- 21 January: Start of EU negotiations with Serbia