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9 Mar, 2023 14:51

EU extends travel deal to Kosovo

Should the European Parliament approve, residents of the disputed province would be able to enter the bloc freely for up to 90 days
EU extends travel deal to Kosovo

The European Council has adopted a measure to grant Kosovo passport holders the freedom to enter the EU without a visa for up to 90 days. The move comes as Brussels pressures Serbia to recognize the breakaway province as an independent country.

The council announced its decision on Thursday, noting that the measure still needs the approval of the European Parliament before it can become law. Should MEPs sign off on it, the arrangement is set to come into force from January 1, 2024.

“Kosovo has made great efforts to improve its security and migration management and to align its visa policy with that of the EU,” Swedish Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard said in a statement.

EU authorities expect Kosovo to become a member of the union at some point after 2025 despite the fact that it is part of Serbia, according to an expansion plan published by the European Commission in 2018. Pristina formally submitted an application for membership last December. 

Since then, Brussels has pushed Serbia – a candidate for EU membership since 2012 – to accept the breakaway republic's independence, floating a controversial “normalization” proposal last month. Serbia has flatly refused, with President Aleksandar Vucic stating that Belgrade will never sign any “formal or informal recognition of Kosovo.”

Home to an ethnic Albanian majority and a Serb minority, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, eight years after NATO bombed Serbia on behalf of an ethnic Albanian insurgency. Kosovo’s declaration of independence was backed by the US-led bloc, despite it breaching UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which guaranteed Serbia’s territorial integrity.

The Serbian population of Kosovo fell due to expulsions during World War II and after the NATO bombing campaign, while more than 150 Serbian Orthodox churches, graveyards, and monasteries were destroyed by Albanian separatists between 1999 and 2004.

While the EU has since deepened its ties with Kosovo, five of its members – Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania, and Greece – do not recognize the province’s independence. At present, a Kosovo passport allows the bearer visa-free access to 15 countries.