By a narrow vote, the European Parliament Committee LIBE recommended visa liberalization for Kosovo, but voted against the initiation of negotiations before the country fulfills two remaining criteria, including the finalization of border demarcation with Montenegro.
MEPs from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, LIBE, backed visa free travel for Kosovo, with 25 votes in favor and 24 votes against abolishment of Schengen zone visa requirements. However, MEPs rejected the opening of negotiations with the Council of Ministers on the matter, with 24 votes to 25.
After the vote on Monday, a LIBE press release listed border demarcation as a major criterion for opening the negotiations.
“One of the 95 criteria the country should fulfill before obtaining the visa waiver is to ratify the border agreement with Montenegro, still pending,” the press release stated.
In May, the European Commission proposed to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to lift visa requirements for Kosovo. This proposal was the first step towards the country’s access to visa free travel in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days during any 180-day period.
The proposal stated that the two remaining requirements in Kosovo’s liberalization roadmap are “ratifying its border/boundary agreement with Montenegro and fulfilled sufficient elements of building up its track record in the fight against organised crime and corruption.”
Tanja Fajon, European Parliament’s rapporteur for the proposal, took to Twitter on September 1 to urge Kosovo to move forward on fulfilling the remaining requirements.
— Tanja Fajon (@tfajon) September 1, 2016
Her message to Kosovo came on the same morning that Kosovo MPs were set to vote on the draft law for the demarcation agreement with Montenegro, though after the session, parliament postponed the vote indefinitely.
Fajon’s European parliamentary group Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats released a statement after Monday’s vote.
“We strongly believe that the future of Kosovo is in the European Union and visa liberalisation is a step in that direction. However, we cannot bend the rules – we need to see that the final issues are addressed before negotiations begin. We urge the government to ratify the border agreement with Montenegro. We can then begin to work on finalising the visa liberalisation agreement,” the statement said.
After the Committee’s vote, Kosovo’s European Integration Minister Bekim Collaku welcomed the Parliament’s decision, assessing it as “positive.”
“This is a step forward towards a final decision,” said Collaku, adding that he hopes that this process finishes “as soon as possible.”
“Kosovo citizens have earned equal treatment with their neighbours for a long time now, and Kosovo institutions have worked hard in fulfilling the requirements of this process,” he said. The eventual decision of the European Parliament for visa liberalisation is expected to pave the way for a final vote by the EU member states in the Council of the European Union.
As of 2011, Kosovo is the only Balkan country that has not been granted visa liberalization. Kosovo remains one of the most isolated citizenship regimes in the world regarding freedom of movement.
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