BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament has approved the opening of negotiations with the European Council on visa liberalization for citizens of Kosovo.
A total of 420 EU lawmakers voted in favor on September 13, while 186 voted against and 22 abstained.
Kosovo remains the only country in the Western Balkans whose citizens still need a visa to travel to the EU.
Officials from EU member states are set to discuss the issue for the first time on September 17. Sources close to the talks told RFE/RL that especially France and the Netherlands are reluctant to grant the council the negotiating mandate.
Once the two EU institutions manage to reach a deal on the visa waiver, Kosovar citizens will be able to enter the EU without a visa for 90 days in any 180-day period if they hold a biometric passport.
The waiver applies to all EU countries apart from Britain and Ireland but includes non-EU states such as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
The European Commission confirmed in July that Kosovo had fulfilled all the benchmarks required for its citizens to qualify for visa-free travel within Europe's Schengen Area, and the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee last month backed opening the talks with the council.
The requirements included a strengthened record in the fight against corruption and organized crime, as well as the ratification of a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro, which occurred in March.
Visas were abolished for the citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia in 2009 and for Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2010.