Greece now applies Schengen visas on Kosovo passports and the two countries' chambers of commerce concluded an agreement to improve commercial ties.
By H.K. Tzanis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 07/04/14
Greek border authorities are now applying entry visas on Kosovo passports. [AFP]
In a change of policy, Greek authorities are now putting Schengen visa stamps on Kosovo citizens' passports rather than providing stamps on a document attached to the passport.
The change in policy is an example of how Greece and Kosovo are improving freedom of movement and bi-lateral trade and investment despite Athens' non-recognition of Kosovo, officials said.
Athens changed the practice following a visit by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Evangelos Venizelos to Pristina in his capacity as president of the EU council of ministers, where he met with the Kosovo leadership.
Greece's position to not recognise Kosovo remains unchanged, but that does not mean travel documents issued by Pristina are also not recognised, said Konstantinos Koutras, Greece foreign ministry spokesperson.
"Greece is aligning [its policy] on these issues with other EU member states, which adhere to the same position on the issue of Kosovo's recognition," Koutras said. "Whoever retains even elementary knowledge of international law and diplomatic practice knows that international law determines, precisely, what constitutes recognition. Any other statement is superfluous."
Greece maintains a diplomatic liaison office in Pristina staffed with Greek diplomats and a section that issues visas.
The change in Greece's visa stamp application practice was followed by signing a memorandum of understanding in Athens between the Athens-based Association of Societe Anonyme and Limited (Ltd.) Companies and the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce.
At the signing of the memorandum, Kosovo Chamber of Commerce president Safet Gerxhaliu was accompanied by a Kosovo business delegation. Officials said a reciprocal visit by a Greek business and trade delegation to Kosovo is planned soon.
Kosovo has friendly relations with Greece although Greece does recognise its independence -- an issue that will be addressed within the context of Euro-Atlantic integration, according to Petrit Selimi, Kosovo deputy foreign minister.
"Greece firmly supports Kosovo's EU prospects and we have continuously called upon all new EU members to aid Kosovo in achieving long-lasting stability in the region. Greece's decision to stamp the Schengen visas in Kosovo passports is a move to help freedom of movement for the people of Kosovo," Selimi told SETimes.
Greek analysts praised the move to create a framework to boost trade and investment with Kosovo, exemplified in the chamber-to-chamber agreement.
Both sides said nascent political ties are a precursor for Greek investment capital to find its way to Kosovo. Greek exports to Kosovo reached 71 million euros in 2012, whereas imports from Kosovo were a paltry 324,000 euros.
Greece's move should not affect the traditionally close Greek-Serbian relations from a possible warming toward recognition of Kosovo, said Charalambos Tsardanidis, director of the Athens-based Institute of International Economic Relations.
"The Serbs are themselves negotiating with the Kosovars, so why can we not talk to the Kosovars? We have similar interests with Serbia in various areas, and we are friends, but every country has their own priorities," Tsardanidis told SETimes.
Tsardanidis also said there is an internal discussion taking place at present within Greek diplomatic circles on whether to recognise Kosovo, ostensibly as part of a total package to boost Greek-Albanian relations across the board.
Correspondent Linda Karadaku in Pristina contributed to this report.
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