The freedom of circulation of Kosovar citizens in the EU and the final status of Kosovo: reply by Commissioner Patten

Written Question (E-3395/03) by Olivier Dupuis (NI-Radical) to the Commission

Subject: Freedom of movement for Kosovo citizens in the EU and the final status of Kosovo

Under EU legislation, Kosovo citizens have no legal means of moving, whether short term or long term, within the territory of the Union's Member States in search of employment. (The Western Balkans and the European Union: Liberalising Movement of Persons', ILPA, Immigration Law Practitioners' Association, UK, March 2003). This means that there is no short-term prospect of resolving the problem of the powder keg represented by mass unemployment in Kosovo.

In this connection, the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Kosovo, Michael Steiner, has stated that the astronomical unemployment rate and devastating poverty in Kosovo are obstacles to lasting peace in the region. (SRSG, 2002).

The distinguished Balkan specialist, Misha Glenny, wrote in the Guardian of 9 September 2003 that unless we find a way, as a matter of extreme urgency, of achieving controlled release of the pressure which has been building in Kosovo since 1999, we will be facing a very real danger of explosion in the near future.

While the final constitutional status of Kosovo remains, unfortunately, in suspense, no outside investment in the Kosovo economy is possible. (From this point of view, the impasse in which the EU and the UN find themselves with regard to the chaotic situation of legislation on property rights is only the most recent example of these difficulties (Institute of War and Peace Reporting, October 2003). These factors, in combination with the drastic reduction in opportunities of finding employment in the EU, condemn Kosovo to destitution on an indefinite basis. Under these circumstances, the EP resolution of 5 June 2003, expressing Parliament's lively concern regarding the economic and social situation in the Western Balkans, and calling for maximum priority to be given to eliminating the visa obligations for the EU, is quite particularly urgent in the case of Kosovo.

What are the Commission's proposals with regard to getting rid of visa obligations for the citizens of Kosovo, a small country devastated by war? What are the Commission's proposals with regard to Kosovo's final constitutional status?

Question (E-3395/03) and reply given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission (21 January 2004)

Since June 1999, Kosovo is under interim United Nation administration pursuant to the United Nation Security Council Resolution 1244.

As regards (short-term) Schengen-visas nationals of all countries in the region except Croatia are subject to the visa obligation in accordance with Council Regulation 539/2001. It should be underlined that short-term-Schengen-visas are not issued for immigration purposes in the Schengen States. Kosovar citizens, who hold travel documents issued by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (which is a travel document recognised by all Schengen states) can apply for a Schengen visa for a short stay visit. In order to obtain a Schengen visa, they have to fulfil all the relevant conditions laid down in the “acquis” (in particular in the Common Consular Instructions part III).

As regards the possibility to move “to take up employment in the Member States”, this requires a work permit. The Commission has made a proposal (directive) on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of paid employment and self-employed activities - this draft is still being discussed in the Council. At present, Member States decide alone about the conditions to grant a work permit to third country nationals (except in specific cases: e.g. third country national is a member of the family of an Union citizen exercising his/her right of family reunification).

As regards the "final constitutional status of Kosovo", the strategy followed by the international community is the United Nations "standards before status” policy, according to which no discussion for the settlement of the final status can start unless Kosovo has attained a number of standards (e.g. functioning of democratic institutions, rule of law, freedom of movement, sustainable return of displaced people and minority rights...).

Currently, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (Unmik) is trying - with the support of the international community, including the Union - to establish a work plan and a timetable for the implementation and close monitoring of the standards. The Contact Group has made it clear that final status discussions could begin by mid 2005 provided sufficient progress has been made on this work plan by then.