EU states dash hopes of Kosovo visa liberalization – Exit
More than four years after the Commission recommended visa-free access to the EU for Kosovo citizens, removing the bureaucratic and financial hurdle seems out of reach, despite the executive’s continued insistence on hope of the bloc that has fulfilled its end of the bargain.
While Prague has been keen to secure a finish line deal before the end of its six-month EU stint in December, prospects of success are fading for Pristina as the goalposts have to again been moved.
Several EU member states, including France, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, have slowed the Czech Presidency’s efforts to end the EU visa requirement for citizens of Kosovo, because they would demand additional security guarantees.
This comes even after four years of Commission-backed recommendations to grant visa liberalization and the latest push from the Czech EU Presidency.
Kosovo remains one of the few European countries whose citizens still need a visa to enter the EU, whether for leisure, work or education, although it has met all the criteria in 2018.
“I am much more optimistic than a year ago,” EU enlargement chief Olivér Várhelyi told EURACTIV on Wednesday after presenting the annual progress report on the enlargement of the country, confirming that Kosovo had fulfilled all the points for visa liberalization and said that the EU executive would wait for the technical discussions.
“It will pay a dividend at the end of the year, and we will have a decision,” he added.
But the step ultimately requires the unanimous approval of all 27 EU member states, which will be difficult to obtain because beyond those contesting the visa issue, five EU member states – Greece, Cyprus , Spain, Romania and Slovakia – do not. recognize the independence of Kosovo.
At a technical Council meeting on Thursday, representatives of France, which has repeatedly blocked a decision on the visa issue, added new criteria. In particular, the liberalization of visas for Kosovo must be linked to the functioning of the European security system, ETIAS.
The electronic system makes it possible to check the data of citizens of third countries who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen area. It requires each applicant to provide their name, email address, date of birth and passport and make payment with a debit or credit card. The application is then examined and the authorities make a final decision on whether this person can enter the Schengen area.
Currently the system is offline, but it is expected to be online in 2023, with no exact date.
This is the first time that ETIAS has been mentioned in discussions on visa liberalisation.
The latest proposal, which came at the last hour, was backed by officials in Madrid, Stockholm, Brussels and The Hague, and reportedly Copenhagen.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, contacted several times by EURACTIV over the past four months on this subject, declined to comment.
Convincing skeptical member states by the end of the Czech Presidency in December will not be an easy task, as the EU Council’s visa working group made clear on Thursday.
“The working group generally welcomed the reopening of the discussion on the subject and generally supported the visa liberalization process. To move forward on this file, it will be necessary to clarify a number of related topics and to continue the discussion,” the Czech Presidency wrote in a statement.
The latest setback likely surprised the Czech Republic, as sources in its foreign ministry said the Czechs were “mildly optimistic” ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
Even if an agreement can be reached within the working group, the processes within the Council and other inter-institutional negotiations will probably mean that Kosovo will not get the green light before the end of the Czech Presidency, Iva Merheim-Eyre , an analyst at the Association for International Affairs, told EURACTIV Czech Republic.
No progress on EU visa liberalization for Kosovo
The woes of enlargement
The latest setback for Kosovo comes in the wake of growing frustration in the region with the EU enlargement process moving at a glacial pace, if at all.
When opening up the process to Ukraine and Moldova granting the two countries EU candidate status this summer, bloc officials also promised to speed up the process for their furious Western Balkan counterparts. , some of whom have been in negotiations for club membership for over a year. decade.
A small step was taken on Wednesday when the EU executive recommended that member states grant Bosnia and Herzegovina candidate status, meaning Kosovo would be the only country in the region that remains a potential candidate.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti and President Vjosa Osmani have confirmed that the country will apply for EU membership by the end of the year, driven by fears of instability in the region amid the Russian war in Ukraine and Moscow’s influence on Pristina’s enemy, Serbia.
However, politicians and analysts point out that the European Commission is largely falling short of expectations in the region while claiming that its annual reports on monitoring the process have become “very irrelevant”.
The Commission under fire from the misadventures of enlargement