By Linda Karadaku
Although Kosovo didn’t receive a start date to begin negotiations on visa liberalisation at the EU summit on Friday (December 9th), the country was given hope with a commitment from the Union that the issue is still on the agenda
“Kosovo has a clear political commitment of the EU for the goal of visa liberalisation, obviously following the procedure that all the other countries of the Western Balkans needed to fulfil,” EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told SETimes.
The EU Special Representative in Kosovo, Fernando Gentilini, said that the Council’s conclusions adopted on December 5th, and fully endorsed by heads of EU members states on Friday, represent an important step forward.
“It is now clear that dialogue on visas will start and that Kosovo will benefit from visa liberalisation once all conditions are met,” Gentilini said, adding that it is important for Kosovo to “redouble its efforts and concentrate to address the challenges and steer forward the reform processes”.
“It would also be important for Kosovo to continue to be constructive in the dialogue with Serbia and in implementation of the related agreements,” the EU special representative said.
In response, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said the European perspective of Kosovo has been translated into a concrete offer for the first time, “in a unique way, from all the states of the EU”.
“[The] summit confirmed the conclusions of the foreign ministers, which very clearly foresee for Kosovo the opening of the dialogue on visa liberalisation, the opening of negotiations for trade relations, Kosovo’s approach in the Community programmes and Kosovo’s membership in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development,” Thaci told reporters in Pristina, after returning from Brussels.
Thaci said the visa liberalisation process is probably the most important for Kosovo, as one-third of its citizens are in the diaspora, mainly in EU countries.
The Council of the EU discussed Kosovo as well on Monday (December 12th), saying it welcomes Kosovo’s commitment to its European agenda, “including through sustained efforts in areas such as visa, trade and judicial system and the establishment of a council for EU integration”.
“It also welcomes the improved integration of Serbs south of the Iber/Ibar River … [and] invites Kosovo to launch an inclusive and long term agenda for northern Kosovo in close co-operation with the EU, and welcomes the Commission’s intention to offer its full support.”
The Council reaffirmed that Kosovo would benefit from the prospect of eventual visa liberalisation “once all conditions are met”.
Flamur Salihu, a spokesperson for the European Integration Ministry, said liberalisation moves Kosovo and its citizens closer to the EU, adding that with it come responsibilities.
“We are working and will continue to explain clearly to our citizens that in case of abuse with visa [liberalisation], they will be personally penalised, will be repatriated and they will [lose] the right to travel without visas in the EU for a period of several years,” Salihu told SETimes.
Kosovo analyst Ramadan Ilazi, says the EU should translate its rhetoric into concrete action.
“Starting the process for visa liberalisation is good news in that direction and recognition that Kosovo is showing itself to be a good neighbour. But we should be careful with the carrot and stick approach that the EU is applying as a method to achieve the aim of the negotiations [between Kosovo and Serbia],” Ilazi told SETimes.
He also warns that although the EU would liberalise visas with Kosovo, citizens will be disappointed when they will realise the conditions required to travel freely in the EU Schengen zone. “They will understand that having a ticket and a biometric passport is not enough; other things are required as well,” Ilazi says.