Kosovo isolated after vote on Albania and Bosnia visas
MEPs have put the spotlight on Kosovo being left behind in terms of EU integration after waving through plans for visa-free travel for Albania and Bosnia on top of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
The EU parliament on Thursday (7 October) passed by 538 votes to 47 a motion to let Albanians and Bosnians enter the vast majority of the EU without visas by the end of the year. The nay-sayers came mostly from British, French and Italian members in the eurosceptic EFD group. Almost half of the British-and-Polish-dominated anti-federalist ECR group abstained.
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Member sates are expected to rubber stamp the measure in November despite reported opposition from France. The new freedoms will only apply to biometric passport holders and will not cover Ireland and the UK.
Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia already made the EU visa-free list last December. The opening-up saw an initial surge of Macedonian and Serbian asylum-seekers to Belgium.
Several MEPs on Thursday noted that Kosovo is now the only part of the Western Balkans without any prospect of visa-free travel to the EU. Tanja Fanon, a centre-left Slovenian deputy who shepherded the visa bill through the EU assembly, blamed the situation on "the split between member states over recognition of its independence."
With the other Western Balkan countries also inching toward EU accession, the split means the Union cannot even sign a basic trade pact with Kosovo because there is no formula to designate it as a legal entity that can be a party to an EU contract.
Senior EU officials questioned by EUobserver do not believe that any of the non-recognisers - Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain - will change their mind in the coming years.
The situation is causing bitterness among Kosovars, who feel that "war criminals" in Serbia are getting preferential treatment. But EU officials are not concerned by the problem for now because of the snail's pace of accession talks with most of the surrounding former-Yugoslav countries.
"I hope that in the near future all people of the Western Balkans region will be able to enjoy visa-free travel to the EU," EU parliament President Jerzy Buzek said in a written statement on Thursday.
Centre-right Slovak MEP Eduard Kukan noted that: "The EU should not create a situation where citizens of one part of the region remain in isolation."
"The elephant in the room is that Kosovo remains," Austrian Green deputy Ulrike Lunacek said. "We must move to immediately resolve this anomaly."