EU member states put the brakes on Prague’s visa-free ambitions for Kosovo

EU member states put the brakes on Prague’s visa-free ambitions for Kosovo

Four years after the European executive recommended ending visa requirements for Kosovo citizens, removing this administrative and financial hurdle still seems elusive, although the Commission says the country aspiring to join the EU is playing its part of the EU accession has fulfilled contract.

Despite Prague’s efforts to reach an agreement before the end of its six-month term as EU Council Presidency in December, Pristina’s prospects for progress are slim as new conditions emerge.

Several EU member states, including France, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, have held back the Czech Presidency’s efforts to lift visa requirements for Kosovo citizens because they would need additional security guarantees.

Kosovo remains one of the few European countries whose citizens still require a visa to enter the territory of the European Union, whether for leisure, work or education, although Pristina has already met all the necessary criteria since 2018.

The Commission has been recommending visa liberalization for four years, but nothing is working. Even the latest push by the Czech EU Council Presidency hasn’t changed the lines much.

“I am much more optimistic than a year ago”EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi told EURACTIV on Wednesday (12 October) after presenting the country’s annual progress report on enlargement, in which he confirmed that Kosovo has met all the conditions for liberalization visas and pointed out that the European Executive will await technical discussions on the matter .

“It will bear fruit at the end of the year and we will make a decision”he added.

However, this measure requires the unanimous approval of the 27 EU member states.

That unanimity will be difficult to achieve because, in addition to those opposed to the visa abolition, five member states of the bloc – namely Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Romania and Slovakia – do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

New requirements

At a Technical Council meeting on Thursday (October 13), representatives from France, which has repeatedly blocked a decision on the visa issue, appeared to add a new criterion to the growing list of expectations by urging visa liberalization for Kosovo to go ahead with the move link functioning of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).

This electronic system enables the verification of the data of third-country nationals who do not require a visa to enter the Schengen area. Each applicant must provide their name, email address, date of birth, passport and make the payment using a debit or credit card. The application is then checked and the authorities decide whether the person is allowed to enter the Schengen area or not.

The system is currently offline, but it is expected to come online in 2023, an exact date is not yet known.

This is the first time that the ETIAS system has been mentioned in visa liberalization discussions, although Kosovo has been ready for four years, according to commitments made at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in June.

The proposed proposal was backed by officials in Madrid, Stockholm, Brussels, The Hague and, according to some sources, Copenhagen.

The French foreign ministry, contacted by EURACTIV to find out what it thinks of visa liberalization in Kosovo, declined to comment.

A late notification

Persuading the most reluctant member states by the end of the Czech presidency in December will not be an easy task, the EU Council’s visa working group made clear on Thursday.

“The working group broadly welcomed the resumption of discussions on this issue and generally supported the visa liberalization process. In order to move forward with this dossier, a number of related issues need to be resolved and discussion continued.”said the Czech Presidency in a statement.

This latest setback likely caught the Czech Republic by surprise, as Foreign Ministry sources said the Czechs did “rather optimistic” ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

Even if an agreement can be reached within the working group, the processes in the Council and other inter-institutional negotiations are likely to result in Kosovo not being given the green light before the end of the Czech presidency, Czech Republic Iva Merheim-Eyre , analyst at Association For International Affairs.

No progress on visa liberalization for Kosovo

With the release of the 2022 EU Enlargement Report, Kosovo has made no progress on visa liberalisation, leaving the matter in the hands of EU member states, despite demands from the European Commission and Kosovo.

The difficulties related to enlargement

The latest snag for Kosovo comes amid growing frustration in the region at the slow pace, if not the lack of enlargement, of the EU enlargement process.

When they extended the process to Ukraine and Moldova and granted them candidate status to join the bloc this summer, union officials also promised to speed up the process for their colleagues who are already unhappy with the bloc.

A small step was taken on Wednesday when the EU executive recommended member states to grant candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

However, politicians and analysts point out that the European Commission is falling short of expectations in the region and that its annual reports on the process have become “very irrelevant”.

Commission criticized for enlargement errors

The European Commission is leaving civil society in the enlargement countries and beyond, MEPs and representatives of think tanks said at a conference on Wednesday (12 October).

Reference: www.euractiv.fr

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