Meaningless visa regime between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo Persist

26 qershor 2023 15:02

Artikulli i përkthyer.

For decades, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo have upheld a visa regime, making them the only two countries in the Western Balkans that require visas from each other's citizens.

On November 3, 2022, a significant development took place when all six Western Balkan countries signed three new agreements in Berlin, under the umbrella of the Berlin Process.

They reached an agreement to establish mutual recognition of college degrees and professional qualifications for doctors, dentists, and architects. Additionally, they decided to eliminate the visas regime, enabling individuals to cross borders between Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo using only their identity cards, and terminating the longstanding visa regime that previously existed between the two regions.

This was a good step forward in overcoming regional obstacles and accelerating positive changes in the region.

Although BiH and Kosovo have agreed to abolish the visa regime, it is unclear whether this agreement will translate into actual visa-free travel between the two countries.

Kosovo keeps its side of the bargain

In February 2023, 82 deputies in the Kosovo Assembly voted in favor, approving three agreements previously agreed upon by the Western Balkan countries in Berlin in November 2022, as part of the Berlin Process.

However, despite the passage of time, four months later, BiH has yet to ratify the Agreement, prolonging the visa-free travel between Kosovo and BiH.

The lack of ratification stems from BiH's non-recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. This is primarily due to the veto power utilized by Republika Srpska, one of the two entities within BiH, which impedes any progress toward recognizing Kosovo's independence.

Following the Berlin Summit, the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, stated that BiH will not pursue the process of visa liberalization with Kosovo, emphasizing his intention to prevent any advancement on this issue.

Visa-free travel hindered by political obstacles

BiH has consistently blocked the implementation of the agreement allowing visa-free travel between the citizens of Kosovo and BiH. As a result, citizens of both countries are still required to go through bureaucratic procedures to obtain visas to visit their families and friends.

The complex visa system hampers trade relations between the two countries, leading to a drastic decline in trade, and weakening the economy of BiH and Kosovo. Furthermore, businesses and organizations must allocate resources to cover the costs of obtaining visas for their employees.

It is important to note that Zoran Tegeltija, former chair of the Council of Ministers of BiH and a member of SNSD (Dodik's political party) signed all three agreements in Berlin, alongside other prime ministers from Western Balkans. This act was seen as a sign of optimism, not only for the citizens of both countries but also for the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who found hope in this display of cooperation.

In the end, it is evident that Dodik's counterproductive tactics have prevailed, as he seems unaffected by the institutional responsibility of the signed agreement.

That can be substantiated by his statement, initially made in Belgrade, where he claimed that the Council of Ministers of BiH did not pass the necessary Law to enable the Agreement.

Moreover, he reaffirmed his stance on his Twitter account while responding to the German politician and member of the European Parliament, Viola von Cramon, who called for the ratification of the agreement.

“EU should, firstly, allow the citizens of Kosovo and Metohija to travel freely within its borders and then force others to do so, “said Dodik in his response.

To achieve this, it is crucial for the EU and its member state to intensify their efforts and exert greater pressure. This becomes even more evident considering that the responsibility now lies only on one party.

Ultimately, the visa-free regime will not change BiH's recognition stance towards Kosovo, but will greatly benefit the citizens, who currently face numerous procedures when visiting each other.

26 qershor 2023

Anida Sabanovic