European Western Balkans

Procedure for abolishing visas for Serbian passports in Kosovo is ongoing, the exact date of implementation still unknown

Serbian passports; Photo: EWB

The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament has appointed Matjaž Nemec, as rapporteur responsible for the issue of visa abolition for passports issued by the Coordination Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia for citizens of Serbia in Kosovo.

As EWB previously reported, after the visa regime was lifted for holders of Kosovo passports, Serbian citizens from Kosovo holding these „special“ passports issued by the Coordination Directorate remain the only ones in the Western Balkans region who still cannot travel to EU countries without visas.

Matjaž Nemec explains European Western Balkans that it is tough at this stage to predict when this regulation would enter into force exactly.

„The procedure only just started in the European Parliament with the tabling of the draft report. Following the amendments stage, the dossier will then need to be prepared for adoption first at committee and then plenary level“, explains Nemec.

According to him, the speed of all these steps depends on several factors, such as a number of amendments tabled, and the support of the political groups in the European parliament.

„When and what is adopted in the European Parliament, it will determine whether inter-institutional negotiations are needed“, Nemec adds.

Although visas for travel to the EU were abolished for Serbia in 2009, the visa-free regime did not apply to passports issued by the Coordination Directorate. The reason for this lies in the fact that the Serbian police did not have effective control over the territory of Kosovo, meaning they could not gather all necessary information about individuals eligible for Serbian passports. Among them are Serbs, as well as Albanians, and members of other ethnic communities in Kosovo.

Therefore, the separation of Serbian passports issued in Kosovo and central Serbia was one of the conditions without which Serbia could not obtain visa liberalization. The solution found at that time was for Serbian citizens in Kosovo to obtain „special“ passports, issued by Coordination Directorate in Belgrade. The number of passports issued in this was exceeds 100,000.

The abolition of visas for special passports provoked sharp reactions in Pristina

The European Commission has proposed abolishing visas for citizens in Kosovo holding passports issued by the Coordination Directorate of the Serbian Interior Ministry in November. According to the EU internal procedures, EU member states and the European Parliament need to agree on this issue, based on the proposal from the European Commission.

The EC’s proposal has sparked strong reactions in Kosovo, with dissatisfaction expressed by the authorities in Pristina as well as a significant number of civil society organizations. One of the main arguments was that the European Commission’s proposal would demotivate Serbs to integrate into Kosovo’s institutions.

At that time, Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi stated that the European Commission granted visa liberalization to „illegal passports“, which is, according to him, is an unacceptable violation of Kosovo’s sovereignty.

The Coordinator of the Working Group for Chapter 35 of the National Convention for the EU (NCEU), Dragiša Mijačić, tells EWB that statements from politicians and other actors in Kosovo give the impression of insufficient understanding of the issues surrounding passports issued by the Coordination Directorate.

“Namely, EU regulations from 2009, which allowed visa liberalization for Serbia, specified that citizens of Serbia residing in Kosovo and Metohija would not enjoy the same rights as other Serbian citizens and that they would not be able to travel freely to Schengen countries. To implement this decision, the EU requested that the Government of Serbia establish a new Coordination Directorate within the Ministry of Interior of Serbia, which would consolidate seven relocated police directorates from Kosovo, thus creating a unified system for issuing travel documents for these citizens”, Mijačić recalls.

He notes that the Coordination Directorate issues passports for citizens of Serbia who are not only Serbs but may belong to other ethnic communities, adding that holders of these “special” passports may not necessarily physically reside in Kosovo.

“They may be displaced persons living in Serbia or individuals who have long since moved abroad. All of them officially have a residence in Kosovo, thus the only passport they can obtain is the one issued by the Coordination Directorate”, Mijačić explains.

He adds that, on the other hand, institutions of the Government of Kosovo issue passports to Kosovo citizens and to those Serbs who hold Kosovar citizenship. According to him, it is realistic to expect that Serbian nationals who already have Kosovar citizenship will also have a Kosovar passport.

“On the other hand, a lot of Serbs, as well as members of the other ethnic groups in Kosovo, for various reasons, do not have Kosovar citizenship, thus they can not obtain Kosovar passports. Therefore, it would be most appropriate for representatives of the Kosovo Government to work on the issue of Kosovar documents for those who are denied such rights due to legal and bureaucratic procedures, rather than advocating for the continuation of discriminatory measures restricting the freedom of movement for holders of passports issued by the Coordination Directorate”, Mijačić believes.

Matjaž Nemec says that in an ideal situation, the need for the issuing of these special passports would cease to exist, adding that this will happen soon.

“Either with the progress in normalization of relations or with mutual recognition of documents between Serbia and Kosovo. I do wish progress on these issues would be made in the near future. But until such time, I support the Commission’s proposal and believe that there is no justification for maintaining these special passports out of the visa-free regime with the Union. I do not support that ordinary people, who are currently excluded from visa-free regimes, would pay the price for the lack of other solutions which are in the hands of politicians from both sides of the border. It is only fair everybody is treated equally in that respect, too”, Nemec concludes.

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