This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al
By ALFRED PEZA
“I’m happy to announce that all the efforts have paid off, therefore today, we can confirm that Kosovo has delivered all the criteria set out in the roadmap for the liberalisation of visas.” This was declared today by the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos during a joint press conference with the President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci.
At last, citizens of Kosovo will start to touch the reality of European integration. “Today marks the demolition of the last wall of isolation for the citizens of Kosovo”, Thaci said.
In the past, we had no visa regime
What’s happened with Kosovo as far as the freedom of movement is concerned, is a little more painful than what happened with citizens of Albania, because Albania was isolated for 45 years by the communist dictatorship and isolation was the same for all of the country’s citizens. Meanwhile, Kosovo, as part of former Yugoslavia, didn’t need any visas to travel abroad since the ‘70s. With its ups and downs since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Albania managed to benefit from the visa liberalisation process on 15 December 2010. Meanwhile Kosovo still had a long journey ahead after the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
After independence, the passport of the youngest state in the world no longer had the same value as the previous passport. Therefore, from 2009 until today, the number of Kosovo’s citizens who have given up on their citizenship is 40 thousand.
The last remaining meters to run before reaching the finish line
The question that everyone is asking now after the declaration made by Avramopoulos is this: Is there a date when the citizens of Kosovo will start to move without visas in the EU member countries?
“Now, everything depends on the European Parliament and European Council. Parliament needs to approve the proposal of the European Commission. After that, the proposal goes to the Council. Before, we had many kilometres to run. Now, we’re in the last 100 meters before reaching the finish line ”, said the EU commissioner Avramopoulos.
Meanwhile, according to the president of Kosovo, the country has delivered all the criteria for the liberalisation of visas and today, it has received the approval of the European partners. “This decision comes as an award for the difficult work that we have accomplished together”, Thaci said.
Based on Albania’s experience, if these three procedures are successfully finalized for Kosovo, then the final decision on the issue of visas is expected to be taken sometimes at the end of the year.
The liberalization of the visa regime for Kosovo was predicted to happen in 2015, when the governments of Kosovo and Montenegro reached a deal on the border demarcation. But the parliament of Kosovo managed to ratify this deal in March this year, following the amendments proposed by PM Ramush Haradinaj, who managed to block this process for three years in a row when he was in opposition.
This “small” step for Kosovo is a “giant” step for the region in its path toward other integration processes and the European future of the Balkans. Up until a few years ago, it was unimaginable for Brussels to admit that Kosovo was ready for the liberalisation of visas. It was also unimaginable for Athens and Skopje to solve their issues, in particular the issue concerning the new name of the neighboring country.
After 75 years of problems and pending issues, Athens and Tirana also managed to sit down and today they’re closer than ever to achieving a final solution for their problems. It was also unfathomable that the president of Serbia and president of Kosovo would ever meet on a regular basis and discuss a solution for the problems that concern both countries.
Today, the European behaviour shown by Western Balkans is “obliging” Brussels to open its doors.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy