BRUSSELS: The EU´s executive arm said on Friday that it had proposed granting visa-free travel to residents of Kosovo who hold Serbian passports.
Starting in 2024, the bloc is allowing visa-free entry to visitors from Kosovo, making it the last of the six countries in the Western Balkans to get the waiver. But the decision had left out ethnic-Serb residents of Kosovo who have Serbian passports.
Kosovo, which counts around 120,000 ethnic-Serbs among its 1.8 million people, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move that Belgrade has never recognised. European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said the proposal, which has to be approved by EU lawmakers and member states, would mean that “all citizens of the Western Balkans will be covered by a visa-free regime”.
Serbia´s government called the decision “excellent news” and said it was expected to come into force in the first months of next year. Ethnic Serbs in Kosovo “are not, nor must they be, second-class citizens and have all the rights that have been denied to them for years”, Belgrade said in a statement. The proposal comes as the European Union is seeking to bind the countries in the Balkans closer to it amid fears of a struggle for influence in the region with Russia and China.