Sunday

18th Aug 2019

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.

... or 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.

News in Brief

  1. Trump turned down: Greenland not for sale
  2. UK Libdems would back Clarke or Harman as new PM
  3. Six countries agree to take 'Open Arms' ship migrants
  4. Gibraltar judge: Iranian ship should be released
  5. Increasing fears of a global recession
  6. Far-right hate crimes on the rise in Germany
  7. EU steel tariffs have 'worked well' so far
  8. Italian court: Migrant rescue ship can enter Italian waters

EU guilty of Libya migrant 'tragedy', ICC lawsuit says

EU states' efforts to "deter" migrants from Libya have helped kill more than 14,000 people and exposed 40,000 others to "crimes against humanity", according to a lawsuit filed in The Hague on Monday.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings
  2. EU asked to solve migrant rescue deadlock
  3. Internal EU paper: Second Brexit vote was no longer 'distant dream'
  4. EU has 'zero incentive' to break open 'trilogue' deals
  5. Denmark plans import ban on EU-approved pesticide
  6. US offers Johnson helping hand on Brexit
  7. Italy: New government without Salvini in the making
  8. Brexit row delays financial products transparency review

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us