Leaders Of Austria, Kosovo Urge For Visa Liberalization, Regional Security

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Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Chancellor Karl Nehammer of Austria discussed ways to speed up Kosovo’s EU accession and stressed the need for the EU to lift the visa barrier for the last country in the Western Balkans.

In his visit to Prishtina on Friday, Chancellor Nehammer was welcomed in a state ceremony by his counterpart Albin Kurti, with whom they held a joint press conference after the meeting. The Chancellor also met with President Vjosa Osmani later.

Kurti asked Nehammer to push for Schengen area visa liberalization for Kosovo, and requested more EU funds for his country.

“I asked the Chancellor for Austria to push forward at the European Council the decision for visa liberalization, because it is a belated decision that is harming Kosovo citizens, businesses and economy. Kosovo should benefit more from EU funds. EU funds should be related to EU values,” Kurti stated.

Kosovo has fulfilled all EU requirements for visa liberalization since 2018 but its people remain the only one in the region unable to move freely. In addition, it is ranked higher than some regional countries in corruption and human rights indexes but they nevertheless receive more EU funds despite declining EU values in their homes.   

Kurti praised traditionally strong relations between the two countries, and reassured Nehammer of Kosovo’s reliable partnership in the future.

“We have sheltered Afghan refugees, imposed sanctions on Russia and are open to shelter Ukrainian refugees,” he stated. Kurti’s government has offered to take in 20 journalists fleeing Ukraine and 5,000 refugees.

Chancellor Nehammer stressed that the Western Balkans is an important geostrategic area, and Austria will be a connecting bridge between the region and the European Union.

“We also discussed with the Prime Minister the acceleration of the EU accession process […] Kosovo must be in the EU,” the Chancellor stated.

The two leaders also discussed Russian aggression in Ukraine. Nehammer said countries should help each-other in coping with war consequences, including inflation and energy.

Kurti reiterated warnings that Russian President Vladimir Putin could attempt to destabilize other countries, with the Western Balkans being one of the main possible targets.

“During the [1998-1999] war, Putin mentioned Kosovo only once a month. Now he mentions it almost daily, drawing false parallels with Crimea. The one who opposed NATO’s life-saving intervention in 1999 wants to misuse Kosovo’s case to impose his hegemony. We are saddened but not scared,” Kurti noted.

He argued that Putin is looking to sit in negotiations with US President Joe Biden, and therefore he could intensify attacks on Ukraine, although his war there won’t be enough to reach Russia’s objectives. Kurti warned again of the danger of conflict in the Western Balkans through Russia’s proxies: “In [Serbia’s] Nis, the Russian humanitarian center is full of Russian agents.”

Despite signing a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine under EU pressure, Serbian leaders have refused to explicitly voice any condemnation in public, and Serbia has decided to not imposed sanctions. Belgrade is the only city in the world to hold pro-invasion rallies.

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