ECAS blog

On 29 June 2010, the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the European Stability Initiative (ESI) jointly presented a film as well as a panel debate in Brussels which was entitled ‘Kosovo – Breaking the Isolation’. The event was chaired by Heather Grabbe (Director of OSI-Brussels). Other members of the panel included Bajram Rexhepi (Kosovo Interior Minister), Tanja Fajon (Member of the European Parliament), Luan Shllaku (Executive Director of KFOS), Ruud Van Enk (Deputy Head of the Kosovo Issues Unit and member of the DG Enlargement European Commission) as well as Besa Shahini (ESI Senior Analyst).

The central topic of the panel discussion was the visa liberalisation issue concerning Kosovo. Indeed, the notion of free movement raises serious questions concerning citizens of Kosovo, since, according to Henley & Partners’ ‘Visa Restriction Index’, Kosovo is currently the country which has the lowest number of visa-free destinations*. Moreover, there has been a natural tendency to link the issuing of visas with global security in an area. However, as Ms. Grabbe expressed, ‘more visas’ does not necessarily translate into ‘more security’ if the procedure is not applied correctly. That is precisely why Mr Rexhepi stressed how Kosovo needs to have a ‘roadmap’ or ‘strategy’, regarding the application of the visa liberalisation process.

On the grounds of her experience in the European Parliament, Ms Fajon discussed in greater depth the EU’s involvement of this issue. She stated that there has been strong support within the EU Parliament and that the next steps were to attempt to convince the European Council and possible partners to start discussions with Kosovo concerning a possible strategy for visa liberalisation. Among the biggest challenges Kosovo faces on this issue, Fajon pointed out two, namely the reintegration of people who left Kosovo and wish to come back, as well as educating the younger generations to EU values and what the visa liberalisation concept means in practice.

While there may be some scepticism in EU Institutions over the strategy for visa liberalisation in Kosovo, Mr Shllaku suggested five arguments in favour of the process: it would provide consensus within the Kosovar society, it would reinforce the fight against corruption, it would bring Kosovo closer to the EU, it would modify the scope of the current visa liberalisation discussions and finally, it would transform the Kosovar mentality in a sense that it could potentially view Serbia as a neighbour and competitor and less as an aggressor.

Ultimately, as discussions progress in the scope of a Kosovo – EU dialogue, substantial short or medium-term progress can only be limited in the current state of affairs. An issue that is intrinsically connected to the issue of visa liberalisation in Kosovo is, of course, Kosovo’s status as a political entity. Out of all 27 EU Member States, only five do not support Kosovo’s controversial unilateral declaration of independence. To that number we must also add China and Russia, who both bear tremendous political weight, being two members of the Security Council of the UN. As long as important political actors as the ones mentioned above do not fully endorse Kosovo’s statehood, it is doubtful that the visa liberalisation discussions will improve in the near future.

* Even though Kosovo does not officially appear in the Index, ESI found 5 destinations which are currently visa-free for Kosovars. That number is lower than the lowest ranked State in the Index, namely Afghanistan, which has at the moment 22 visa-free destinations.

by Darko Brizic

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