BRUSSELS – A European Parliament committee has given its green light to the start of negotiations with the European Council on granting visa-free access to the EU to the citizens of Kosovo.
Lawmakers at the Civil Liberties Committee on August 30 voted 30-10, with two abstentions, to open the talks and approved the composition of the parliamentarian negotiating team.
“I’m very happy today because it's an important step for Kosovo,” Slovenian lawmaker Tanja Fajon, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the visa liberalization process with Kosovo, told RFE/RL after the vote.
“It was a very long and demanding process. And I know as a rapporteur how difficult it was for Kosovars to achieve the necessary reforms. The benchmarks were set slightly higher than for the other countries of the Western Balkans."
European lawmakers are expected to endorse the committee's decision at a plenary session in October.
However, the process will take longer in the European Council, with sources involved in the matter telling RFE/RL that several EU member states, particularly France and the Netherlands, are reluctant to give their green lights to the proposal on visa liberalization for Kosovo.
Diplomats of EU member states are expected to discuss the topic on September 17.
Once the European Parliament and Europen Council reach a deal on the visa waiver, the citizens of Kosovo will be able to enter the EU without a visa for 90 days in any 180-day period, provided they hold a biometric passport.
The waiver applies to all EU member states except Britain and Ireland, and to the non-EU Schengen states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
Last month, the European Commission confirmed Kosovo had fulfilled all the benchmarks required for its citizens to qualify for visa-free travel within Europe's Schengen Area.
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.
Following the abolition of visas for the citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia in 2009 and for Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2010, Kosovo remains the only country in the Western Balkans whose citizens still need a visa to travel to the EU.