EU Commission gives nod to Kosovo visa liberalisation

President of the European Council Donald Tusk (L) and President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci (R) shake hands during a meeting in Pristina on 26 April 2018. [EPA-EFE/PETRIT PRENAJ]

The European Commission said on Wednesday (17 July) that Kosovo has met the remaining benchmarks to win visa liberalisation with the EU that other Western Balkan countries already enjoy.

But the proposal still needs to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of all 28 member states, some of which remain sceptical about Kosovo’s rule of law and fight against crime and may not be keen to approve the liberalisation before the European elections in May next year.

“Today, the Commission has confirmed that Kosovo has met the two outstanding visa liberalisation requirements on the ratification of the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro and a strengthened track record in the fight against crime and corruption, thus fulfilling all benchmarks set out in the Visa Liberalisation Roadmap,” a Commission statement said.

Kosovar Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli called the Commission’s decision “a historic moment for Kosovo. This step towards visa liberalisation is a test for EU leaders and for Kosovo’s European future,” he said, according to Beta news agency.

The Commission said it would “continue to monitor the implementation of all requirements set out in the visa liberalisation roadmap”.

The EU executive opened a dialogue on visa liberalisation with Kosovo in 2012 and gave a conditional recommendation to scrap visas for Kosovo, Georgia and Ukraine in April 2016. The two former Soviet republics gained visa-free status a year later.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but five EU countries, as well as Serbia and Russia, refuse to recognise it (Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia, Romania).

Of the six Western Balkan countries that want to join the EU, Kosovo and Bosnia have made the least progress.

Kosovo signed an association agreement with the EU in 2015 but is not yet a formal candidate for accession. Montenegro and Serbia are already negotiating for membership, while the Commission recommended opening talks with Albania and Macedonia earlier this year.

Kosovo-Serbia status remains biggest challenge in Balkans – EU envoy

Normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia is “the most complicated process in the Balkans at the moment”, according to the head of the EU’s office in Pristina. But both sides need steady encouragement from the international community to reach a final solution and progress towards EU membership.

 

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