EU eyes visa-free travel, trade deals for Kosovo
Brussels -- The European Commission proposed earlier this month to launch a process aimed at allowing people in Kosovo to travel to the EU without visas, and lay the foundations for a trade agreement.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 and while more than 60 countries have recognised it as a state, including the United States, five EU nations have not.
But the EU remains concerned that Kosovo will lag behind its neighbours in the western Balkans in their efforts to implement the reforms needed to join Europe’s rich club.
To keep up the pace, Brussels offered in a statement "to start work towards visa liberalisation for Kosovo citizens. It also proposes to prepare trade relations with Kosovo."
It also said it would explore ways for Kosovo to take part in some European programmes, with involvement in employment, business and education, and to boost political dialogue.
"These measures will show Kosovo that EU approximation is not something abstract, but that it is about real, tangible benefits for all," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in a statement.
"We now call on EU member states to agree to our proposals and to ensure Kosovo keeps pace with developments in the rest of the Western Balkans."
Hailing the EU approach to Kosovo, its Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said it was "a historic achievement" for his country.
"From today on a new stage is opened in the relations between the European Union and the Republic of Kosovo," he told reporters in Pristina.
"Kosovo enters a reliable road for integrations into the European Union."
Kosovo became a United Nations protectorate in 1999 after NATO launched an air war against then Yugoslavia to end a crackdown by Serbian forces on the independence-seeking ethnic Albanian majority in the province.