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.
Kosovo remains the only potential or actual candidate country for membership, as well as one of the few European countries whose nationals still require a visa to enter the EU, whether for leisure, work or education.
“Regarding visa liberalisation, the Commission maintains its assessment of July 2018 that Kosovo has fulfilled all the necessary conditions. As you know, the proposal is still pending in the Council.”said Oliver Varhelyi, EU Commissioner for Enlargement, on Wednesday 12 October.
The report also indicates that the country has met all the criteria for visa liberalization and the pending proposal “Should be treated urgently” through the council.
However, this will not be enough to placate Pristina, which has been waiting for it for more than four years.
A visa liberalization roadmap was presented in 2012, outlining the reforms the country needs to implement before it can achieve them. In 2018, the Commission confirmed that Kosovo has met all the conditions for visa liberalization and that it should be granted.
But such a move will require unanimity from the bloc’s 27 member states, which is difficult to achieve considering five EU member states still do not recognize Kosovo and France has repeatedly obstructed it.
A long and winding road
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 after the 1998-99 Kosovo War claimed the lives of thousands of Kosovar Albanians and displaced more than 1.5 million people. NATO bombing ended the attack on Belgrade, and the UN has since helped rebuild the country along with the EU and other international actors.
However, five EU member states – Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain – refuse to recognize their independence, mainly because of their territorial disputes.
Kosovo is currently recognized as a potential candidate for EU membership and the Kosovan parliament passed a resolution in March calling on the government to do so “Take all necessary steps to join NATO, the European Union, the Council of Europe and other international organizations”.
In June, Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti said he plans to formally submit an application for membership by the end of the year – news that didn’t sit well with Serbia.
More effort is required
The latest country report shows that Kosovo has made progress but still has needs “Intensify its efforts to strengthen democracy, public administration, the rule of law and the fight against corruption”.
The country’s citizens remain steadfastly pro-EU, pro-Western and pro-NATO, and reforms, particularly under Mr Kurti’s government, have led to profound improvements on issues such as migration, crime and the rule of law.
The report points out that Kosovo has enjoyed a certain degree of stability over the past year and so on “The political environment has been conducive to intensifying Kosovo’s efforts to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, fight corruption and step up legislative activities, including on EU-related reforms.”.
He also pointed to a good climate in parliament, well-organized and transparent elections, and an active and engaged civil society, elements that many of his neighbors often lack.
The report also calls on Kosovo to intensify its cooperation with Serbia on war crimes issues, victim recovery and strengthening laws against domestic violence, gender equality and the rights of children and minorities.
No progress without standardization
Another key theme of the report is the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
“Kosovo must engage more constructively and make significant new efforts to implement all previous agreements and contribute to the conclusion of a legally binding comprehensive normalization agreement with Serbia. [La conclusion d’] Such an agreement is urgent and crucial for Kosovo and Serbia to move forward on their respective European paths.”we can read in the document.
Kosovo and Serbia have been in EU-backed talks for 11 years, but of the few agreements signed, few have been implemented so far. Mr. Kurti insisted on full reciprocity in many areas to assert the country’s sovereignty.
“Normalization is important and crucial for Kosovo and Serbia to make progress in their respective European policies”said Mr Varhelyi before adding that “We need the full engagement of both parties in a constructive way for this dialogue to be successful”.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks besides recognition, which was never considered, is Serbia’s application to create an Association of Serbian Municipalities. It would be an ethnic Serb-backed structure that would enjoy full autonomy in Kosovo without falling under the jurisdiction of Pristina.
The Kosovan government rejected this possibility in a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which declared it unconstitutional and stated that the association could be established but could not have executive powers.
License plate issuance is another issue that requires special attention. Pristina will require all Kosovo citizens to use government-issued license plates, which will have repercussions for Serbs in the north who remain loyal to Belgrade. The new regulation is expected to come into effect at the end of October.
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