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Unlocking Kosovo in 2021: last chance to right the wrong

Piece by Donika Emini and Zoran Nechev.

Citizens of Kosovo were optimistic that the interminable visa liberalisation saga would be finished during the German Presidency. Despite the green light by the European Commission and the European Parliament, because of the opposition from some member states, Kosovars remain alone in Europe not to be able to enter the EU without a visa.

Kosovo was expecting a lot from Berlin, and with a good reason. The EU Presidency was finally held by a country, which has both the political weight to push this through, understands the region, and is supportive of the country’s EU membership perspective.

Contrary to these expectations, not much has happened during the past six months. A number of sceptical EU member states headed by France halted a lukewarm and uninspired push by the German Presidency. As far as Kosovo is concerned, it could have shown much more determination in the areas of most concern to the sceptical EU members, especially fight against organised crime and high-level corruption.

To be fair, previous governments have fulfilled all the necessary requirements for the visa liberalization and met a brick wall of purely political conditionality. Despite the unfair blockage from the Council, their efforts should have been intensified and not diminished as Kosovo Prime Minister Hoti did when he abolished the anti-corruption task force of the police. This particular decision raised some red flags in the EU member state capitals and provided an excuse to their unjustified reluctance to grant the country visa liberalisation 

What could be done now? Kosovo needs to work actively on two fronts. The government should increase its efforts and show genuine political will to continue the implementation of the most sensitive policy areas of the EU roadmap for visa liberalisation such as the fight against corruption and organized crime. Achieving a sustainable track record in these areas is crucial.

In the last 5 years, the country managed to open 66 cases and produce 56 indictments. The EU’s annual country report has been blunt in the need to have a comprehensive track record including all high-level cases of organized crime and corruption. This does not mean that Kosovo should just prioritize high-level cases, it has to do it with the highest level of scrutiny. While doing so, it should make sure it displays to the sceptical EU member states the progress it has made in this regard since 2018 when it received the European Commission’s positive assessment for these efforts.

Regular updates on the developments in relation to corruption and organized crime are essential. These kinds of reports will not only provide an update to member states, but will also show the commitment of the government to continue taking steps in tackling high-level corruption despite the lack of clear and predictable conditionality by the EU. Relying solely on the European Commission’s promise, as we saw with yet another Council’s failure to deliver, does not work. 

Germany has to finish what it did not manage during its Presidency in partnership with the Portuguese. If not, the train will be lost because of the French presidential elections in spring 2022. The last Western Balkan summit of the Berlin process hosted by Germany is taking place next year. By delivering on this issue, in addition to holding the intergovernmental conference between Albania, North Macedonia and the EU, Chancellor Merkel will leave the office with a clean Balkan sheet.

Special thank goes to Srđan Cvijić for providing valuable comments on the article.

This article was written as part of wider research and advocacy efforts supported by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society in the context of ‘Kosovo Research and Analysis Fellowship’. Donika Emini and Zoran Nechev are members of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG). Emini is a PhD student in international relations and politics at the University of Westminster. She is the Executive Director of the CiviKos Platform. Nechev is the head of the Centre for EU integration at the Institute for Democracy ‘Societas Civilis’.

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