Bipartisan call from US Congress to EU: Grant visa liberalization to Kosova!

Washington, October 8th, 2019 —Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, today pushed the European Union to certify Kosova’s Visa Liberalization Plan and grant visa liberalization to Kosova. In letters to the President of the E.U. Commission, the President of the E.U. Council, and 28 E.U. heads of state, Engel amplified the E.U. Commission’s recommendation to grant Kosova visa liberalization by the same standards that the E.U. has awarded it to Kosova’s Balkan neighbors.
The bipartisan letters were also signed by Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul.

“If treated like citizens of every other Balkan country, Kosovars would already be traveling visa free into the Schengen area. But, the inability to grant visa liberalization seems to show there is a second standard being applied to the people of Kosova…We, therefore, urge EU member states and the EU Council to adhere to the recommendations of the EU Parliament and Commission, certify Kosova’s fulfillment of the Visa Liberalization Plan, and grant visa liberalization to Kosova without further delay,” wrote the lawmakers.

Full text of the letters can be found here and below:

We write to express our concerns regarding the withholding of visa liberalization for citizens of the Republic of Kosova by the European Union and its member states.

As you are aware, the European Union has granted visa liberalization to every country of the Western Balkans, except for Kosova. This permits all citizens of the former Yugoslavia and Albania, with the exception of Kosova, to travel visa free to the European Union.

On July 18, 2018, the European Commission confirmed that Kosova had fulfilled all of the benchmarks required for visa liberalization — described to us on many occasions as a technical, non-political process. If treated like citizens of every other Balkan country, Kosovars would already be traveling visa free into the Schengen area. But, the inability to grant visa liberalization seems to show there is a second standard being applied to the people of Kosova.

We have heard that certain EU member states are concerned that, unlike citizens of neighboring countries, Kosovars would abuse visa free entry, overstay visits, and seek asylum status. However, that has proven to be untrue. According to the European Commission’s report of last July, Kosova has significantly reduced the number of its citizens seeking asylum status within the EU, with applications decreasing by 36% from 11,675 in 2016 to 7,410 in 2017 and by 90% when compared to 2015. The July Report also highlighted that Kosova is sponsoring “comprehensive awareness raising campaigns across all Kosova municipalities aiming at informing citizens about the rights and obligations deriving from visa-free travel.” Additionally, the July report confirms that Kosova’s anti-corruption efforts exceed those required to achieve visa liberalization, and Kosova formally approved the demarcated border with Montenegro – a condition applied to Kosova only.

Adding to the conclusions of the European Commission, we are pleased to note that our colleagues in the European Parliament have overwhelmingly voted to support extending visa-free travel to Kosovars more than once. These votes were endorsed by the Parliament’s Special Rapporteurs for Kosova and Serbia, Igor Stoltes and David McAllister, who have both asserted that Kosova citizens deserve visa liberalization.

Regardless, certain member states have yet to deliver on their end of the bargain. EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahns has gone so far as to suggest that visa liberalization could be delayed until 2020 or even until normalized relations between Kosova and Serbia are reached. Not only does this ‘move the goalposts’ for Kosova once again, we find it hard to understand how such a standard could be applied to one party in the Kosova-Serbia dialogue and not the other.

Let us be clear: the realization of fully normalized relations between Belgrade and Prishtina is and should remain a prominent goal of the US and Europe. However, slapping on additional requirements after previous standards were met, disregarding the recommendations of various EU institutions, and refusing to live up to promises is unacceptable and only undermines the EU’s credibility in the Balkans. As members of Congress who care deeply about the region, we believe that it is critical to maintain the partnership between the U.S. and the EU to promote a resolution to the Kosova-Serbia conflict. Unfortunately, the EU’s indefinite delay and uneven standards on visa liberalization for Kosova only further a growing sense of abandonment among Kosovars and losing leverage as a negotiator.

We, therefore, urge EU member states and the EU Council to adhere to the recommendations of the EU Parliament and Commission, certify Kosova’s fulfillment of the Visa Liberalization Plan, and grant visa liberalization to Kosova without further delay.

Thank you for your consideration of our thoughts. We look forward to working with you on the matter and hope to see its resolution soon.

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