Officials acknowledge some roadmap criteria are very challenging to implement, but many remain hopeful that Kosovo will not remain the region's holdout on visa-free travel.
By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 20/06/12
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said that visa liberalisation for Kosovo depends on the government's progress in implementing difficult reforms. [Reuters]
After receiving their roadmap for visa liberalisation last week, Kosovo officials voiced concern that the EU's lack of a common stance on the country may cause the European Commission to include additional conditions that will slow the process.
The roadmap lists 95 criteria -- including border and migration management, document security, re-integration and re-admission, measures against organised crime and corruption as well as protecting fundamental rights and freedoms -- that Kosovo must meet to secure visa-free travel for its citizens.
This is the EU's first practical move to include Kosovo -- the region's sole leftover -- in the visa-free travel to the Schengen zone. Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia joined the EU's visa-free regime in December 2009, followed by Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina a year later.
Although Kosovo has been working to meet the criteria, officials said that fighting organised crime, corruption and illegal immigration will be challenging.
"These three criteria, I believe, will cause a bigger headache, despite significant advancement on the other criteria," Gezim Kasapolli, deputy minister for European integration, told SETimes.
Pristina pledged to fulfill required roadmap criteria, but other regional countries have needed between 13 and 22 months.
"We are committed to meet the criteria in record time, but some are beyond the national scope such as the fight against organised crime and border co-operation," Kasapolli said.
Another stumbling block could prove to be the EU member-states position on the country -- five out of EU's 27 member states do not recognise Kosovo's independence.
"My biggest fear on this document meanwhile will provide a possibility for additional criteria, which will delay the process," Lufti Haziri, chairperson of Kosovo's parliamentary committee on European integration, told SETimes.
Avni Mazrreku, director of the European Studies College in Pristina, said that while the EU's lack of common stance may lead to new conditions, the problem is reflected in overall relations, not solely the visa-liberalisation process.
"The five member states are slowing down all kinds of co-operation between the EU and Kosovo," Mazrreku said.
Haziri acknowledged Brussels' hesitation to include an entire region in the Schengen zone was due to a large number Albanians emigrating to the EU. "Economic asylum-seeking is still continuing, and it is a concern for some EU countries, especially for some friends of Kosovo, like Belgium, France, Sweden, and Austria."