Single visa to ‘mini-Schengen’ in Balkans likely

Eudore R. Chand

ABU DHABI 21 September 2020: A Serbia-Kosovo deal, which has been nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for peace efforts in the Balkans, will boost ‘mini-Schengen’ initiative, eventually enabling foreigners to visit six countries in the region on a single visa, a top diplomat has said.

“Serbia-Kosovo agreement to normalise economic ties will augment the efforts for regional cooperation, which will in turn enhance economic engagements between the Balkans and the Arabian Gulf. A single visa will attract more businesspeople and tourists to the Balkans from the Gulf, especially the UAE,” said Stanimir Vukicevic, the Serbian Ambassador to the UAE.

Emiratis already enjoy visa-free travel to most of the Balkan countries but UAE residents of other nationalities will benefit from the single visa, he explained to official news agency Wam.

Vukicevic was talking about the impact of the US-brokered deal, which was signed on 4th September at the White House in the presence of US President Donald Trump.

Single visa to 6 countries

“In Serbia, we believe that we cannot be a rich country, if our neighbouring countries in the region remain poor. The new Serbia-Kosovo deal will galvanise the efforts for prosperity in the region,” the ambassador explained.

Once the “mini-Schengen” project materialises, a visitor with a visa to one country will be able to visit all other countries in the bloc, he said.

The new deal will also cause a jump in bilateral economic relations between Serbia and Kosovo, the diplomat said. “Despite not having a formal economic relation, we had US$100 million trade with Kosovo in 2019 and 12,000 Serbian companies were doing business with them.”

Deals attracting global attention

As part of the 4th September deal, Kosovo recognised Israel, the first majority-Muslim country to do so after the UAE.

Bahrain, the second country from the Gulf and fourth from Arab world to normalise ties with Israel – after Egypt, Jordan and UAE – announced its move on 11th September. The UAE and Bahrain signed the peace accord with Israel in Washington on Tuesday.

Swedish MP, Magnus Jacobsson, said on 11th September that he has nominated the governments of the United States, Kosovo and Serbia for the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to secure a peace agreement between the two former Balkan war foes, Associated Press reported.

On 9th September, it was reported that a Norwegian lawmaker, Christian Tybring-Gjedde, nominated Donald Trump for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts towards reaching the UAE-Israel peace accord.

Kosovo and Serbia have been negotiating on normalising their ties under European Union mediation since 2011. Serbia fought a fierce war with Kosovan fighters seeking independence during 1998-1999. The war ended after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia.

Kosovo was run by the United Nations for nine years before it declared independence in 2008. Most western nations, except Serbia, have recognised Kosovo’s statehood.

Serbia-UAE relations

About the Serbia-UAE relations, the ambassador said, “We are sharing the same values of the modern world.”

The UAE hosts the largest Serbian expatriate community in the Middle East. Around 12,000 Serbians have been living in the UAE but some of them have gone back home due to the global economic slowdown caused by the new coronavirus.

“Many of them have been happily living here for more than 15 or 20 years,” he said.

High-level contacts between both counties have been intensified in recent years with seven Serbian ministers visiting the UAE and two UAE ministers paying visit to Serbia in 2019. Serbian Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, visited the UAE early this year.

“Both countries have concluded talks on many bilateral agreements that are ready to be signed,” the envoy said.

An office of Serbian Chamber of Commerce was opened in Dubai in 2019. About 20 Serbian companies are expected to open in free zones in the UAE in near future.

Many UAE companies have successfully been operating in Serbia for many years, the diplomat said.

In an interview published on WAM on 15th September, Avni Arifi, the Ambassador of Kosovo to the UAE, said, “The UAE continues to contribute positively in the Balkan region by investing heavily in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and other countries, which indirectly is a big help in stabilising the region.”

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