By Linda Karadaku
After launching a dialogue with the EU on visa liberalization this week, Kosovo now faces the difficult task of meeting the required criteria to make the visa-free process a reality.
Although the government is enthusiastic about the challenge, some analysts are wary.
“I think the biggest challenges for us in this process will be the prevention of illegal migration and the requests for asylum. Several countries in the region that have visa liberalisation are at risk [of losing it] due to the extended number of asylum-seekers from those countries,” Kosovo Minister for European Integration Vlora Citaku told SETimes.
The Union lifted visa requirements for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro in December 2009, and Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania in 2010.
Aside from these issues, the country must “implement substantial reforms in key areas such as the security of travel documents; border, migration and asylum management; public order and security issues — notably the fight against organised crime and corruption; and fundamental rights issues related to the freedom of movement,” European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström said Thursday, as she launched the talks.
But, Citaku says, the government has been working for two years to prepare for the dialogue.
Kosovo has launched the civil registry, has started to distribute biometric passports, has approved the strategy for the reintegration of repatriated persons and has approved the national strategy to fight illegal migration and action plan on the implementation of integrated border management.
“We are prepared in many criteria which countries in the region have fulfilled in a very advanced phase of the process,” Citaku told SETimes.
But some say the reforms go beyond obtaining visa liberalisation.
“Kosovo should address challenges in the border control sector, inter-state organized crime, repatriation and reaching technical and technological standards in the administrative system. But also improving of the political image and [improving] the economic situation of the country,” Agron Bajrami, Kosovo columnist, editor-in-chief of daily Koha Ditore told SETimes.
“These are probably the biggest challenges because these are real and deep problems which have not been addressed — they are also the stain that burdens Kosovo’s name in almost every quarter of the world. [Dealing with these issues] will go beyond the time frames and political frames of visa liberalization.”
Kosovar Civil Society Foundation European Integration Programme Co-ordinator Fatmir Curri said that the process is dependant on timing, and fulfilling of the criteria in the guide.
“The guide is expected to be finalised by the European Commission this spring,” Curri told SETimes.
While Prime Minister Hashim Thaci expressed optimism and the readiness of his government to fulfill the criteria in a record time, many of Kosovo’s citizens are indifferent about the talks.
Ardita Berisha, a 28-year-old retail employee of Fushe Kosova/Kosovo Polje, says she is not excited about the process.
“We were the only ones left out of the process at a time when visas were removed for the entire region. I think this was deeply unjust on the part of the EU,” Berisha told SETimes.
“The process will continue for two to three years, which means that Kosovo people will continue to be the only ones in Europe paying a lot of money at the foreign embassies, filling out a lot of papers and losing time waiting in lines for a visa that they may not even get.”
Pristina taxi driver Sabit Musliu told SETimes that without money to spend, the process “is useless”. “Even if I had the visas free now, I wouldn’t need it, because I don’t have money to go to Germany or Switzerland. And if I had money here, I wouldn’t have any reason to go there.