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Wider Europe Briefing: A New EU Plan To Help Ukraine; Visa Liberalization For Kosovo

EU and Ukrainian flags flying near the European Parliament in Strasbourg. (file photo)
EU and Ukrainian flags flying near the European Parliament in Strasbourg. (file photo)

Welcome to Wider Europe, RFE/RL's new newsletter focusing on the key issues concerning the European Union, NATO, and other institutions and their relationships with the Western Balkans and Europe's Eastern neighborhoods.

I'm RFE/RL Europe Editor Rikard Jozwiak, and this week I'm drilling down on two major issues: the agreement by the European Union to finally set up a military assistance mission to Ukraine, and the potential breakthrough when it comes to visa liberalization for Kosovo.

Brief #1: A Military Assistance Mission For Ukraine

The Big Issue: It has been in the works since the spring, but on October 17, EU foreign ministers are expected to finally green-light the bloc's first-ever military assistance mission for Ukraine, christened the EU Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM).

It has long been a sensitive topic, with the bloc reluctant to be dragged into the conflict in any way. But now Brussels is stepping up to coordinate efforts that have been in place since the start of the war in February by individual member states in an attempt to avoid duplication and boost Brussels' overall support for Kyiv.

A concept note, written by EU diplomats and seen by RFE/RL, states that if launched swiftly, the mission can "make a positive difference to the outcome of the war."

What You Need To Know: The goal is to have the mission up and running this fall to train around 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers on EU soil, ideally by the winter. There is also a possibility to scale up if needed.

The training will take place in several EU member states, but there will be two "headquarters"-- one in Germany, which will offer specialized training such as demining; and the other in Ukraine's neighbor, Poland, which will offer air defense, cyberwarfare, and artillery training, among other things.

With Poland already being a major hub for humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine and enjoying increasingly close cooperation with crucial NATO allies such as the United States and the United Kingdom, the choice was obvious, with an EU document stating that providing training close to the border "could significantly reduce the supply routes from Ukraine for the recruits and trainees and the return…to the front line of the war."

Deep Background: Two questions are worrying Brussels: Firstly, is it really necessary for the European Union to step up involvement on this front, considering NATO and its allies are already doing so much? And, secondly, how will Russia react?

After a lot of initial hesitancy over the summer, the mission did get an extra push at an informal EU defense ministers' meeting in Prague in late August when Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov requested extra support for the Ukrainian Army. A leaked document authored by the European External Action Service (EEAS) and seen by RFE/RL also came to the conclusion that "not enhancing the support to Ukraine now would leave the Ukrainian armed forces short of vital training for its personnel during a critical period of the war."

The fear of how it would be perceived in Moscow has lingered, with the concept note acknowledging that the mission could be interpreted by Russia "as an escalatory move." The concept note does add that "this risk, however, is mitigated by the fact that the proposed mission would not constitute a direct involvement by the EU and its member states in the conflict."

EU member states were adamant that no training would take place on Ukrainian soil for security reasons. The Russian air strike in March on the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security -- a military training ground near Lviv that had hosted foreign fighters -- was a cautionary example. Liaison officers from the EU, however, will be stationed in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Drilling Down

Why has the decision not been taken quicker? Partly because of fears of a potential Russian response but also because developments on the ground have shifted faster than the slow grind of the Brussels bureaucratic machine. What first seemed like a fairly low-key training mission focusing on very specific tasks has slowly morphed into what is likely to be a substantial coordination effort. Another reason for the delays in recent weeks was a discussion between Germany and Poland on where the headquarters will be based, with several diplomats that I spoke to on the condition of anonymity saying that Berlin argued that it would look better if Germany hosted the headquarters, as Warsaw had struck too much of an aggressive tone with Moscow. In the end, Poland's advantageous geography meant that a compromise could be made.

How long will the mission last? Two years, with an assessment of its usefulness in 2023. But the EU seems to have adopted NATO's mantra of supporting Ukraine for the long haul, with the concept note stating that "the EU will support Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression, as much as needed and for as long as it takes."

How much will it cost? The initial budget of 106 million euros ($103.6 million) is coming from the EU's European Peace Facility (EPF), which "expands the EU's ability to provide security for its citizens and its partners." The facility has already provided 2.6 billion euros to finance Ukraine's purchase of military weapons from EU member states, with another tranche of 500 million euros expected to be agreed by the bloc's foreign ministers on October 17. Some of that might be used for EUMAM, but the main costs will still be borne by individual member states by providing military trainers and instructors to boost the capabilities of the Ukrainian Army.

Brief #2: Will There Finally Be Visa Liberalization For Kosovo?

The Big Issue: After years of stalling, there might finally be some movement when it comes to visa liberalization for Kosovo's citizens. With all other Western Balkan countries enjoying visa-free travel to the vast majority of EU member states for over a decade, the fact that Pristina still doesn't have this right has been a source of tension for some time.

Already in 2018, the European Commission confirmed that Kosovo had fulfilled all the required conditions. And then last week, the commission once again issued a paper stating that its recommendation from four years ago "to exempt Kosovo nationals from visa requirements in respect of short stays remains fully valid."

The problem, however, is that not all the member states agree.

Deep Background: This summer, there were signals from France and the Netherlands, the two last holdouts against visa liberalization for Kosovo, that they were willing to reconsider their positions. The Dutch had already previously indicated that they could be willing to move if the European Commission gave its thumbs up after looking into the matter again. But for France -- who previously had showed little willingness to budge, citing fake asylum applications from Albania and Georgia -- there has seemingly been a change of heart.

The Czech Republic, which currently holds the rotating European Council Presidency until the end of 2022, hopes to resolve the issue on its watch. On October 13, the topic was for the first time discussed by the council's visa working group that brings together home affairs experts from the 27 member states to Brussels once a month.

Drilling Down

At the meeting, France threw a bit of a curveball: Paris wants to link visa liberalization for Kosovo to the entry into force of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). ETIAS is the EU-version of the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) -- essentially a digital system to keep track of non-EU visitors to the Schengen zone. It will cover every traveler from the currently 63 nations that have a visa-free regime with the EU, be they Brits or Bosnians. Under the scheme, to enter Schengen an applicant would just have to fill in a form and pay 7 euros.

• One problem is that no one quite knows when ETIAS will enter into force. It was supposed to be up and running in 2022, but the start date has already been postponed several times. Now, the working assumption is that it should start up sometime in 2023, most likely November, but that is not set in stone.

• France is not alone in liking the idea of linking ETIAS to visa freedom for Kosovars. Belgium and Spain also support the idea, and Sweden, the Netherlands, and Italy are also considering it. Germany, however, is strongly against the proposal. Paris might reportedly also push for other conditions, such as Pristina striking readmission agreements with all EU member states.

• The next step will be written comments from all EU member states by a deadline of October 21. There will be another meeting of the visa working group on November 9-10, where an agreement could be reached. The most likely outcome is that there is an agreement in principle already this year but that the actual visa-free regime enters into force in late 2023. For Kosovo, this is both a glass half-full and a glass half-empty. On the one hand, no one is de facto objecting any longer. On the other hand, there are new obstacles and it doesn't look like Kosovars will be able to travel visa free to the EU imminently.

Looking Ahead

• Politics in the EU this week will likely be dominated by the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on October 18 and the EU summit in Brussels on October 20-21. More sanctions on Russia will be on the agenda, just weeks after the bloc adopted its eighth package of measures.

Some ideas floating around include: ways on how to seize frozen Russian assets in the EU; a ban on Russian citizens acquiring property in the bloc; and more restrictive measures on Belarus, which was spared in the latest sanctions round. That said, no decision is expected this week, with the draft EU summit conclusions that leaders will likely adopt currently stating that "the European Union has strengthened its restrictive measures against Russia. The European Council discussed how to further increase collective pressure on Russia to end its war of aggression." Expect that wording to sharpen in the run-up to and during the summit.

• Having missed out on the Nobel Peace Prize recently, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will be awarded the 2022 Sakharov Prize. Or at least sort of. Several political groups in the European Parliament, who nominate candidates for the prize, had proposed either Zelenskiy, "the people of Ukraine," or a combination of the two.

In the end, the three biggest groups in parliament settled for a proper Brussels compromise by backing "the brave people of Ukraine, represented by their president, elected leaders, and civil society." That will at least make the final decision, set for October 19, a foregone conclusion. The final choice always rests with the president of the European Parliament, together with the leaders of the various political groups, but with the key political powers already backing the "Ukrainian bid," the other two short-listed candidates, Julian Assange and Colombia's truth commission, stand no chance.

That’s all for now. I really hope you enjoyed the first edition of Wider Europe. To subscribe, click here. Please feel free to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you might have. You can also follow me on on Twitter @RikardJozwiak.

And you can always reach us at

Until next time,

Rikard Jozwiak

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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About The Newsletter

Wider Europe

The Wider Europe newsletter briefs you every Monday on key issues concerning the EU, NATO, and other institutions’ relationships with the Western Balkans and Europe’s Eastern neighborhoods.

For more than a decade as a correspondent in Brussels, Rikard Jozwiak covered all the major events and crises related to the EU’s neighborhood and how various Western institutions reacted to them -- the war in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, the downing of MH17, dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, the EU and NATO enlargement processes in the Western Balkans, as well as visa liberalizations, free-trade deals, and countless summits.

Now out of the “Brussels bubble,” but still looking in -- this time from the heart of Europe, in Prague -- he continues to focus on the countries where Brussels holds huge sway, but also faces serious competition from other players, such as Russia and, increasingly, China.

To subscribe, click here.