Visa liberalisation for the Western Balkans: Kosovo the ‘ugly duckling’?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The EU is honouring its visa liberalisation promises to the Balkans but has explicitly excluded Kosovo – the ''ugly duckling'' of the region – and must come up with a tangible perspective for its citizens, writes Gunda Schumann, a former staff member of the EU's EULEX rule of law mission in Kosovo, in a commentary sent to EURACTIV Germany.

The following commentary was authored by former EULEX staff member Gunda Schumann.

''The EU's promises to give the Western Balkan countries a future perspective in the European Union have been honoured at last: citizens of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia may travel visa-free to member states of the Schengen zone, while Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina will follow suit in the near future.

Winning the ticket to Europe was anything but a cakewalk: around 40 detailed EU requirements on document security and illegal migration, including readmission, public order and security, as well as external relations and fundamental rights had to be transformed into national legislation and properly implemented.

In practical terms, after the conclusion of bilateral agreements concerning visa facilitation and readmission, the European Commission opened a 'visa dialogue' and designed tailor-made 'roadmaps' for each eligible country.

However, one part of the Western Balkans has been explicitly excluded from the journey towards Europe: Kosovo. It has neither become a partner of any 'visa dialogue', nor are its citizens eligible to receive Serbian biometric passports that qualify as tickets to Europe. The former Yugoslav province, facing incomplete recognition as an independent state due to its sui generis status, is facing a Catch-22 situation: it has to tap its own scarce resources for managing reforms required to obtain visa liberalisation; however, Kosovo is lacking tangible incentives for this cumbersome procedure.

In the meantime, Kosovo citizens get increasingly frustrated about the EU-induced 'visa ghetto trap' and rely more and more on illegal 'passport shopping'. Moreover, the recently emerging perspective of an EU-backed dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia on 'open issues' is shifting the focus on bilateral issues between former foes.

Gunda Schumann, a former staff member of EULEX, pleads in her article [Südosteuropa Mitteilungen, Journal of the German Southeast Europe Association, vol. 4/5 2010, pp. 20-37,] for a European perspective that is tangible to Kosovo citizens. In this manner, it could serve as a functioning alternative to being an 'ugly duckling', isolated from Europe as a security risk.

After having screened the process of European integration in the Western Balkans, the author reviews the status of Kosovo, examines the EU approach towards Kosovo that is lacking consistency and transparency due to the status dilemma, evaluates current activities of the Kosovo government to fulfil the requirements needed for opening a visa dialogue, and outlines policy recommendations involving Kosovo citizens for reaching visa liberalisation – thereby taking into consideration socioeconomic conditions for avoiding illegal migration into the Schengen area.''

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