European Union parliamentarians on Tuesday gave the green light for citizens from Kosovo to travel freely in Europe without visas from next year. Kosovo, once a Serbian province in the former Yugoslavia, is the last territory in the Western Balkans without visa-free travel to the EU’s Schengen travel area.
The reform was welcomed in Pristina as another step towards full recognition and a boost for the European ambition of a territory that won independence after a 1998-1999 war.
Serbia does not recognise the independence of its former breakaway province. Nor do five EU member states: Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia and Romania.
The move means that Kosovo’s citizens will be able to travel in the 27-nation Schengen passport free area, which includes most EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, for periods of up to 90 days every six months.
Citizens in the Schengen countries will be able to visit Kosovo without visas too. The former Serbian territory was the last country in the Western Balkans region not to have such travel arrangements with the EU.
Kosovo leader Prime Minister Albin Kurti hailed the vote.
“This brings us an important step closer to the European Union and contributing to the richness that the EU offers. Thank you to the MEPs for their support,” he said, in a social media post.
Great news for Kosova today! The European Parliament approved visa-free travel for our citizens starting January 1st, 2024. This brings us an important step closer to the European Union and contributing to the richness that the EU offers. Thank you to the MEPs for their support. pic.twitter.com/XJK6NMmFcV— Albin Kurti (@albinkurti) April 18, 2023
The measure will come into force once the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is in place to allow member states to better share information.
But if putting the system in place takes too long, the law will still come into effect at the end of 2024.
Dutch Socialist lawmaker Thijs Reuten, who chaperoned the process through the European Parliament, said the move “finally enables the people of Kosovo to easily travel, visit relatives and do business in the EU.”
European Parliament gives final green light to visa free travel to the EU for Kosovo 🇽🇰!
Proud we have finally delivered on this long overdue EU promise to the citizens of Kosovo. You are part of Europe! Now we can open the next chapter further building our shared 🇪🇺 future. pic.twitter.com/Db1zNOq8LM— Thijs Reuten 🇪🇺🌹 (@thijsreuten) April 18, 2023
“But it is more than that,” he added in a statement, as the assembly met in Strasbourg. “This milestone is also an important foundation for the future and ever-closer cooperation between the EU and Kosovo.”
The announcement on the visa coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Brussels Agreement, a document aimed at normalising relations between the governments of Serbia and Kosovo, signed on 19 April 2013 in Brussels under EU auspices.
According to the Euractiv media network, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić said that “visa liberalisation for Kosovo, in the days around the 10th anniversary of signing the Brussels agreement, is an act of hypocrisy and insolence towards Serbia.”
Serbia and Kosovo are both looking to join the EU, but all depends on Belgrade’s willingness to recognize its breakaway province as an indpendent state.
There has been some progress.
The same day that Kosovo was allowed visa-free travel within the EU, the Union’s External Action Service announced the creation of a Joint Monitoring Committee to oversee the implementation of the “Ohrid Deal”, agreed upon on 18 March in Ohrid, North Macedonia, where Kosovo PM Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic orally agreed on formalising relations. The monitoring group will get together on 2 May in Brussels, after which it will meet “regularly.”
In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Serbia, urging Vucic to “to find a global and sustainable solution” with Kosovo. His visit was followed by a series of trips by EU leaders, and pressure to set aside differences increased after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Mutual recognition of Serbia and Kosovo would increase European unity vis-à-vis Russia and fit into Macron’s plan of a “sovereign Europe” where Belgrade would be less willing to ask for economic assistance from Russia or China.
Source : RFI