Sunday

22nd Jul 2018

Kosovo's gloomy visa-free future

A festive atmosphere broke out in Pristina on Wednesday (4 May) as the European Commission announced it would recommend to scrap visa requirements for Kosovars.

Prime minister Isa Mustafa updated his Facebook profile with a picture of the EU and Kosovo flags.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

  • Last year, civic societies made a visa liberalisation campaign asking the EU for visa free travels. (Photo: Kosovo Foundation for Open Society)

”Congratulations, fellow citizens! A positive recommendation for the removal of visas is the most deserved appreciation for Kosovo’s citizens by the European Union. Every day, the result of government efforts are becoming more tangible for Kosovo citizens, who are citizens of the European continent and values”, he said.

Kosovo is a visa enclave in the Balkan region, where all its neighbours have been able to travel freely to the Schengen area for years.

EU states have been reluctant to extend the courtesy to Kosovo, worrying it would drive immigration.

In Europe’s youngest state, the median age is 28, 40 percent of the population is unemployed and average salaries are €350 a month. An estimated 10 percent of its 1.6 million people suddenly went abroad in 2014, driven by lack of prospects at home.

What motivated the EU executive to change its recommendation?

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration who broke the news, said Kosovo had made great progress in meeting technical and political benchmarks.

”This is the result of hard work and successful efforts of the Kosovo authorities in achieving far-reaching and difficult reforms,” he said.

Others pointed to strategic reasons.

“Visa liberalisation for Kosovo is not happening because the EU decided to grant us something,” Agron Bajrami, the editor-in-chief of the Koha Ditore daily, told Kosovo 2.0, a news website.

“It is happening because the EU has been obliged to sign a deal with Turkey on the issue of refugees so that the refugees will remain in Turkey and the EU has pledged to lift visa requirements for Turkey … It would be an absurdity to lift visa requirements for a state of more than 70 million inhabitants that hasn’t fulfilled the criteria, while leaving the door closed to Kosovo.”

This doesn't mean that Kosovo got a discount.

”The visa deal was promised and postponed for years. Kosovo had to fulfill more conditions than other countries”, said Krenar Gashi, a scholar at the university of Ghent.

”At one point, the commission asked that the Ombudsman should own its premises rather than to rent them.”

Two requirements must still be met before the European Parliament and EU states can approve the deal.

Kosovo has to step up the fight against organised crime and settle a border dispute with Montenegro.

Gashi said the call to fight crime is ”so broad it doesn’t mean anything”.

”There’s a lack of political willingness and capacity in Kosovo to enforce the rule of law,” he said. “It could however lead to a couple of spectacular arrests to showcase that authorities are trying.”

Last week, Kosovo police and Eulex, the EU's rule-of-law mission, made 42 raids and arrested six people over a €30 million public property theft. Several of the suspects are public figures, including the ringleader, Azem Syla, a politician affiliated with the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo.

”It’s very simple”, Avramopoulos said when journalists asked what stick the EU will use to measure progress in the authorities’ will to fight crime. ”We will judge by the results.”

It remains unclear how the visa deal will work in the five member states that don’t recognise Kosovo: Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain.

Asked by press on Spain, for instance, Avramopoulos said: “Spain knows how to handle this issue.”

A Spanish source told EUobserver that EU visa liberalisation wouldn’t change Spain’s current position, which is not to let in people with Kosovo travel documents.

”We will still have the problem of recognition of the documents”, the source said.

It also remains to be seen how the deal would improve Kosovar people’s lives.

Roderick Parkes, formerly a researcher at the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, told EUobserver that visa liberalisation can reduce incentives to move abroad.

”The more options people have, the better these things function. If you make it more difficult for people to travel, you will see a spike in departures. People who left will also stay away because they will be afraid they won’t be able to come back”, he said.

Krenar Gashi said the deal could end in disappointment.

”People are happy now, everyone in Pristina is talking about it. It's because politicians have promoted visa liberalisation for years as a significant step toward full EU membership”, he said.

”But it won’t make much difference. Many people don’t have the money to travel. When they realise how little this matters for their day to day lives, for Kosovo's prospects for full EU membership, this … effect will vanish.”

War crimes law poisons Serbia accession talks

Croatia wants its neighbour to scrap a law on universal juridiction in the former Yugoslavia. The request is delaying the opening of a new chapter of negotiations.

Opinion

EU's Kosovo meddling risks Balkans chaos

The EU and the US are is unfairly pressuring Kosovo to ratify a border deal with Montenegro against the will of the opposition. It could bring trouble to the Western Balkans region.

Opinion

Kosovo on the brink over Montenegro deal

Thaci government faces revolt over Montenegro deal - the straw that broke the camel's back after years of misrule and economic stagnation.

Germany blocks Georgia's EU visa bid

Germany has blocked Georgia's EU visa waiver, citing a crime spree. Critics say the political decision could undermine EU credibility in eastern Europe.

Opinion

EU must create safe, legal pathways to Europe

As the rapporteur for the European Parliament on an EU regulation on resettlement, my colleagues and I have outlined an effective plan based on solidarity and humanitarian principles.

News in Brief

  1. Libyan PM rejects EU migrant camps idea
  2. Italy's Salvini to sue critical anti-mafia writer
  3. EU countries send aircraft to Sweden to help with wildfires
  4. British ex-commissioner's jobs called into question
  5. May to tell EU to drop Irish border 'backstop' idea
  6. Trump threatens EU over Google fine
  7. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  8. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us