EU states dash Prague hopes for visa-free Kosovo –

Four years after the EU executive recommended visa-free access for citizens of Kosovo, removing the bureaucratic and financial hurdle seems out of reach, despite the Commission’s continued insistence the bloc’s hope has been fulfilled its share of the market.

Despite Prague’s efforts to secure a finish line agreement before the end of their six-month tenure driving the EU in December, prospects of success are fading for Pristina as new demands continue to mount. emerge.

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.

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.

This comes even after four years of Commission-backed recommendations to grant visa liberalization and the latest push from the Czech EU Presidency.

“I am much more optimistic than a year ago,” EU enlargement chief Olivér Várhelyi told EURACTIV on Wednesday (October 12th) after presenting the annual progress report. of the country’s enlargement, confirming that Kosovo had fulfilled all the points of 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.

That will be hard to find because beyond those who dispute the visa issue, five EU member states – Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Romania and Slovakia – do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

new demands

At a technical-level meeting of the Council on Thursday, representatives from France, which has repeatedly blocked a decision on the visa issue, appeared to add a new criterion to the ever-growing list of expectations, urging that the liberalization of visas for Kosovo is 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 talks on visa liberalization as Kosovo has been ready for four years, in line with promises made at the EU-Western Balkans summit in June.

The proposal, which came at the last hour, was backed by officials in Madrid, Stockholm, Brussels and The Hague, and sources say Copenhagen.

The French Foreign Ministry, contacted by EURACTIV about its thoughts on visa liberalization in Kosovo, declined to comment.

Late notice

Convincing skeptical member states by the end of the Czech Presidency in December will not be an easy task, as the EU Council’s working group on visas 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

There has been no progress for Kosovo in terms of visa liberalization after the publication of the European enlargement report for 2022, leaving the issue at the mercy of EU countries, despite calls for urgency of the European Commission and of Kosovo itself.

The woes of enlargement

Kosovo’s latest setback 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 for Ukraine and Moldova granting the two countries EU candidate status this summer, bloc officials also promised to speed up the process for 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 candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

However, politicians and analysts point out that the European Commission is largely falling short of expectations in the region, while saying its annual reports on monitoring the process have become “very irrelevant”.

The Commission under fire from the misadventures of enlargement

The European Commission is failing civil society in enlargement countries and other states, according to MEPs and representatives of think tanks at a conference on Wednesday 12 October, back to back with the presentation of annual reports on enlargement “very irrelevant”.

[Edited by Vlad Makszimov]

Berta D. Wells