by the Schengen White List Project: A Visa Roadmap for Kosovo!
20 July 2009
We welcome the recent European Commission proposal on visa liberalisation in the Western Balkans. It is an important step forward in a process that will allow people from the Western Balkans, like other Europeans, to travel freely around Europe.
We appreciate the fact that the visa liberalisation process is based on objective benchmarks. Governments in the region have a duty to implement wide-ranging reforms to enhance the EU's security and allay the concerns of EU citizens. The countries of the Western Balkans have been asked to improve control of their borders, introduce forgery-proof biometric passports, and put in place concrete strategies to combat organised crime, corruption and illegal migration.
Now the European Commission has found that three countries – Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro – have largely met these conditions. We are glad that the European Commission is in a position to propose visa-free travel for them. This shows that the process works.
We also hope that the authorities in Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina will soon fulfil the remaining criteria and gain visa-free access to the Schengen zone before the end of 2010. We welcome the fact that the European Commission is specifying in detail which conditions still have to be met by both countries, ensuring a rigorous and transparent procedure.
However, we are disturbed by the fact that Kosovo has been left out of this process, a blanket visa requirement having been proposed for all of its residents, including those with Serbian citizenship – this, without any mention of a process that could possibly lead to this requirement being lifted.
We know that EU member states currently disagree on the question of Kosovo's independence. However, all member states should agree that leaving Kosovo residents of all ethnicities trapped in a visa ghetto would be a serious problem – not only for Kosovo, but also for the entire Western Balkans and the EU's interests in the region.
We are convinced that it is in the EU's interest to encourage the same reforms in Kosovo as have already taken place in Macedonia and Montenegro. To do this, the EU should use the considerable human and financial resources it already deploys in Kosovo.
Bearing this in mind, we call on all EU member states – whatever their view on the status of Kosovo – to consider two changes to the Commission proposal.
First, Kosovo should also receive a visa roadmap. It must be given the opportunity to implement the same far-reaching reforms that the other five Balkan countries have set out to implement and to thus contribute to its own security, as well as to that of the entire region and the whole EU. Once Kosovo meets these conditions, the visa requirement should be abolished.
If Kosovo can be placed on the visa “black list” without an EU consensus on its status, then it can also be placed on the “white list” once it meets the necessary technical requirements. The visa liberalisation process should be considered status neutral by the EU.
Second, there should be no discrimination against Kosovo residents. In line with the Commission's proposal, the 3.5 million Serbs living outside Serbia, including the Serbs of Bosnia, will be eligible to receive Serbian passports allowing visa-free travel within the EU. The residents of Kosovo, meanwhile, will not. We disagree with such thinking. It will have the unintended consequence of encouraging Kosovo Serbs (and Kosovo Bosniaks) to relocate and take up residence outside of Kosovo – in plain contradiction to the EU's stated objective of a multiethnic Kosovo.
For years, the countries of the Western Balkans have been waiting for visa-free travel. In the region's relationship with the EU, few issues have been as important. The EU has been on target with its policy of roadmap conditionality and strict but fair evaluations. In the interests of European – and Balkan – security, it must build on this success.
- Giuliano Amato, chairman of the Schengen White List Project Advisory Board, former Italian prime minister and interior minister
- Otto Schily, former interior minister of Germany, member of the German Bundestag
- Radmila Sekerinska, chairperson of the National Council for European Integration of Macedonia, former deputy prime minister of Macedonia
- Misha Glenny, author of "McMafia: Crime without Frontiers" and several books on the Balkans
- Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia
- Jordi Vaquer, director of the Centre for International Relations and Development Studies (CIDOB), Barcelona
- Heather Grabbe, former senior adviser to the European Commissioner for Enlargement
ESI is grateful to the Robert Bosch Stiftung for supporting
the Schengen White List Project - www.esiweb.org/whitelistproject
20 July 2009
We, concerned Europeans living in Kosovo, welcome the recent European Commission proposal to allow citizens of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro to travel visa-free to the European Union from early 2010. We hope that citizens of Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina will receive the same rights very soon. This shows that the EU roadmap process leading to visa liberalisation works.
However, we are deeply disturbed by the prospect of Kosovo becoming a visa ghetto without any chance of escape. This would be the inevitable result of the incoherent and discriminatory policies towards the residents of Kosovo currently proposed by the European Commission.
We are aware that EU member states disagree over the status of Kosovo. Indeed, the signatories of this letter also have different views on this subject.
However, we can all agree that leaving Kosovo residents, whatever their ethnicity, trapped in a visa ghetto, when all other Balkan people from the Adriatic to the Black Sea are able to travel freely, would be a disastrous policy.
For this reason we call on all 27 EU member states – whatever their view on Kosovo's status - to consider the following change to the European Commission's Proposal.
The EU should offer a roadmap leading to visa liberalisation to Kosovo. After all, if Kosovo can be put on the Schengen Black List without agreement among EU states on its status, then surely it can also be put on the Schengen White List, provided it fulfils the necessary conditions.
To isolate Kosovo residents and to additionally put pressure on Kosovo Serbs, by describing all Kosovo residents as a unique ‘security risk' is a baseless insult. The current European Commisson proposal also undermines our efforts to build an open, multiethnic Kosovo. The European Union, which is our best hope for a democratic and prosperous future, must do better than that.
- Luan Shllaku, Kosovo Foundation for Open Society
- Veton Surroi, Kosovo Foreign Policy Club
- Venera Hajrullahu, Kosovo Civil Society Foundation
- Rada Trajkovic, Gracanica Hospital
- Shpend Ahmeti, Instituti GAP
- Jetmir Bakija, Kosovo Democratic Institute
- Nadira Avdic-Vllasi, Bosniak Forum
- Jeta Xharra, BIRN
- Engjellushe Morina, Kosovar Stability Initiative
- Leon Malazogu, Project on Ethnic Relations
- Migjen Kelmendi, Rrokum TV &Java
- Petrit Selimi, Strip Depot
- Besa Shahini, IKS
- Jeton Zulfaj, Celnaja
- Veton Mujaj, Eye of Vision
- Driton Tafallari, Developing Together & ProPeace Platform
- Petrit Zogaj, Speak Out '08
- Albulena Sadiku, INPO
- Valmir Ismaili, Kosovo Democratic Institute
Statement by Vilson Mirdita
"As the Charge d'Affaires of the Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo in Germany, I am in daily contact with Kosovars living in Germany and those who want to reach Germany for various reasons. Having to apply and wait for a travel visa is an enormous burden to these people's lives.
In a lot of cases Kosovars get rejected a visa by the respective authorities and are subsequently banned from visiting their relatives, they lose their university placement, or miss out on a great job opportunity. And now, when all their neighbors benefit from visa free travel, it will be even harder for those who want to travel from Kosovo to be faced with visa rejections.
I personally share the happiness of our neighbors, who achieved visa liberalization after they complied with the EU criteria. Being in close contact with the Kosovo Ministry of Interior, I am aware that Kosovo authorities are working very hard to include Kosovo into the White Schengen List. I am confident that with serious guiding and assistance from the EU we can achieve visa liberalization for Kosovo as well.
However, for that to happen, we need a clear and an open offer by the EU, with a clear set of criteria which Kosovo needs to meet. Coming from a science background, I am aware of the importance of recipes, which serve as a guide when addressing any issue. I am kindly hereby asking the EU to issue the 'visa free' recipe for Kosovo, and in turn to monitor closely the fulfilling of conditions for visa liberalization.
The process has to start, now! On the contrary, I am afraid that Kosovo may fall behind the rest of the region, and that consequently people might feel compelled to fall back on clandestine solutions to travel to the EU."
Dr. Vilson Mirdita, Charge d'Affaires of the Embassy of Republic of Kosovo
Interview with Zenun Pajaziti, Minister of Internal Affairs in Kosovo
1. Minister Pajaziti, what do you make of yesterday's proposal by the European Commission?
We are surprised. We cannot understand why the EU - which is divided on Kosovo status as we all know - can agree to put Kosovo on the Black Schengen list, but cannot agree to offer us a roadmap of conditions to meet to get to the White List, like all other countries in the region. This looks like discrimination against the citizens of Kosovo.
2. What about the insistence that Serb passports held by people resident in Kosovo will not allow visa free travel?
According to our Constitution Serb citizens of Kosovo are entitled to have a Serbian passport, if they want. As a Minister of Interior I feel responsible for all citizens of the Republic of Kosovo and I believe in a multi-ethnic Kosovo. But I would really like to be able to tell all our citizens, Albanians, Serbs, Bosniaks, Roma, that as soon as we meet the conditions, we can all travel visa-free with our Kosovo passports. And that there will be no discrimination on ethnic grounds.
3. Why do you think the EU has decided in this way?
The Commission speaks of "security threats" coming from Kosovo residents and some countries are afraid of illegal migration. But the best way to address those security concerns is to offer us a concrete roadmap and help us improve on border security and migration management. We want to prove to EU member states that we can fulfill the same requirements like Macedonia and Montenegro. All we ask for is to be given a fair chance, and to be treated in the same way like the other countries in the region.
4. What can you do as Minister of Interior?
We know there is no consensus in the EU when it comes to Kosovo. And we understood that visa liberalisation can only be achieved once we meet a set of clear conditions. A few months ago we decided to prepare our own roadmap and we have started to implement the necessary reforms. We are negotiation with Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Norway on Readmission Agreements and we are about to launch the tender for our new biometric passports. We are convinced that by early next year, we will have most of the laws in place, and we can start issuing biometric passports. For these reforms to continue, we need the support of the EU. These reforms are good for us, for the region and for Europe. But we need clarity about when we can expect to be included in the visa liberalisation process.
Interview by Verena Knaus, ESI, 17 July 2009
- The Kosovo Times, "Kosovo appeal to EU parliamentarians and European leaders" (21 July 2009)
- The Kosovo Times, "Is the EU visa proposal anti-Muslim?" (21 July 2009)
- Radio Televizioni i Kosovës, "Shoqëria civile kërkon që KE të shqyrtojë vendimin për liberalizimin e vizave me Kosovën" (21 July 2009). Also available in English: "Civil Society asks the European Commission to reconsider its decision on visa liberalization for Kosovo".
- Balkan Insight, Gerald Knaus and Alexandra Stiglmayer, "Winners, Losers and the Future of the Balkan Ghetto" (16 July 2009)
- Epoka e Re, Muhamet Jahiri, "Kosova të jetë pjesë e liberalizimit te vizave" ("Kosovo will be part of the visa liberalisation process") (23 June 2009)
- Koha Ditore, Lumturie Blakaj, "Be-ja nuk do ta lejojë izolimin e Kosovoës" ("The EU should not allow the isolation of Kosovo") (23 June 2009)
- Kosova Sot, I. Krasniqi, "Suedia dokument për Kosovën" ("Sweden, a document for Kosovo: Saving the Republic of Kosovo from isolation") (23 June 2009)
- Lajm, Nexhmije Ahmeti, "Jashtë procesit" ("An external process") (23 June 2009)
- Zeri, Adrian Çollaku, "Nuk ka përgjigje se si do të perfshihej Kosova në liberalizimin e vizave" ("Nobody is responsible to include Kosovo in the visa liberalisation process") (23 June 2009)
- The Kosovo Times, "Debate on Kosovo's inclusion in the visa liberalization process" (23 June 2009)
- B92, "EU tacitly accepts Kosovo residents are Serbian citizens" (15 June 2009)