Is Kosovo ready for visa-free travel to the European Union?

November 24, 2010

Weeks before a parliamentary election in Kosovo that could decide the course of democratic reforms there, the European Union is struggling to decide whether to offer Pristina encouragement or reproach.

The country, a former breakaway province of Serbia, is the poorest and smallest in the Balkans and riddled with problems. Unemployment rates are near 50 percent, state institutions are weak and per capita income is just $2,500 — one of the lowest in Europe. Five EU members do not even recognise it as a state. Yet it may also hold the key to stability in a region marked by decades of ethnic conflict.

On the whole, Brussels has a clear policy towards Kosovo. It says Pristina could become an EU member, but only when ready. Exactly what steps are needed to push it along the path towards membership, and when, are the subject of debate.

The most pressing discussion in Brussels now is whether to begin talks with Pristina about visa-free travel: from the middle of December, citizens of Kosovo will be the only ones in the western Balkans who need a visa to travel to the EU.

Some EU officials say that in the next few weeks, or at least before the end of the year, the bloc’s executive Commission will starts discussions with Pristina on a roadmap on how it should fix its border and security policies to qualify for the visa-free perk. That would be an important coup for the government and a signal that Kosovo is firmly on the EU integration path.

Some proponents go further, arguing that the sooner visa dialogue starts, the better, because Kosovo needs encouragement to start important talks with Serbia on practical cooperation. Relations between Belgrade, which refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence, and Pristina have improved somewhat in recent months after Serbia agreed to negotiations on technical issues such as customs stamps and telephone codes.

But neither side has yet to make a move towards formal talks — a critical step in efforts to soothe Balkans’ tensions — and diplomats worry they may never materialise. Kosovo policymakers could, for example, refuse to come to the table if Brussels does not launch visa dialogue, they say.

The EU home affairs chief Cecilia Malmstrom, who oversees visa policies, is reluctant to start talking about scrapping visas just yet. Illegal migration is a concern. When tourist visas were scrapped for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro last year, thousands left immediately, seeking better opportunities in western Europe. Requests for asylum in some EU member states from citizens of the three countries increased by as much as four times.

Kosovo may be small, with a population of about 2 million, but its citizens already make up the fifth-largest group of asylum seekers in the EU. Thousands also pay the 2,000 or 3,000 euro price demanded by smugglers to get them across borders.

Malmstrom argues Kosovo’s nascent state institutions are simply not ready to take the steps needed to secure borders and prevent passport fraud.

Delaying visa dialogue would amount to a reproach: get your house in order before you are welcome in ours.

4 comments

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The article claims that Serbia agreed to “technical” negotiations when it made a compromise with the EU on its UN resolution. This is not correct.

The original resolution contained elements that explicitly condemned Kosovo’s unilateral independence declaration. The compromise deleted those statements. But it contains just a call for “negotiations” and it leaves in the middle whether these should be technical or not.

The examples the article mentions (customs stamps and telephone codes) are actually very unlikely to see a compromise as what the EU majority is pressing for would amount to a de facto recognition of Kosovo.

Posted by musicmouse | Report as abusive

Everyone is talking about conditions that Serbia needs to meet prior to EU exceptance, the EU needs to look long and hard at Kosovo before even considering Visa Free Travel. The question that needs to be asked is, what good for the EU if they allow citizens from the poorest country in Euorpe to travel into it’s boarders? Fix this place first EU and then allow Visa Free Travel, you will just be importing more problems if you dont

Posted by KOSOVOEXPAT | Report as abusive

That appears to be all very well as they say, forgetting:

1. fellow NATO member Turkey ‘Deep Strategic’ interest as expressed in its unelected Turkish Foreign Minister’s respectfull tome, and
2. ‘Greater Albania’ aspirations expressed recently at a well attendted world conference held in Albania.

I of course also agree with the old American dictum of having old adversaries “Pissing inside the Tent rather than outside …” being an adbantage unless one prefered them not to be so sude in the first place.

All seems quite quaint though, given the current level of xenophobia about!

Posted by Greque | Report as abusive

Kosovo is getting ready for VISA FEE travel, you think? Look..Many people apply for asylum in Kosovo but Republic of Kosovo did not give refugee status to any one yet, Where is Hunam rights of this people who seek protection in Kosovo, Why EU is just counting the numbers of people who seeek asylum in Kosovo but human and refugee rights are abuse in Kosovo by Kosovan gov.
Kosovan immigration should verifie genuine asylum seekers and process their applications further.
100s foreign citizen apply for refugee status in young state of Kosovo but after waiting for months most of them left for Serbia or other country. Asylum seekers in Kosovo don’t get basic risghts human rights as asylum seeker, adults and child don’t have right for Education, work or any sort of financial support or medical care. Single females, childrens, families and single mens live at at same place, Elderly people, kids and adlts share same rooms even some people use drugs and alcohol at same place.
People have to take loan from their family or friends to survive.
Is this you call ASYLUM ??? No one get asylum in KOSOVO …
This is a shameful game to show the world and eu that this number of people apply for asylum in Kosovo but in reality no one get refugee status till now.
So Still u think kOSOVO IS REEADY FOR VISA FREE TRAVEL TO EU????

Posted by SilentStatue | Report as abusive