The misinterpretation of Macron’s comments on visas triggered a wave of reactions

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A photo from the conference between Rama and Macron. Source: The Prime Ministry of Albania.

Various media outlets and politicians have fallen into the pit of misinterpreting a statement made by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, regarding visa liberalization for Kosovo. Macron visited Albania on October 17 as part of the Berlin Summit with Western Balkan countries. During a press conference alongside the Prime Minister of Albania, Macron spoke about the EU’s decision to lift visas for Kosovars starting from January 1 of the next year. The French President intertwined this issue with the unfulfilled commitments of the Kosovo side regarding the dialogue with Serbia. In line with this, he stated that France has kept its promise to lift visas for Kosovo but did not say that the decision has already been suspended by his country, as initially translated from his statement.

“We have entrusted you with the visa issue. The visa issue has been suspended by France because it has to do with keeping one’s word. Promises are not being kept. I expect both parties to engage and move forward,” was the translation of Macron’s statement published on the website of the Albanian Prime Ministry.

However, with this statement, Macron was referring to the removal of visas for Kosovo and not their suspension by France, as interpreted by some media. Nevertheless, the French President did not rule out the possibility that this might happen if, as he said, “promises are not kept” in the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

“I want to be very clear about one thing. We have made a gesture of trust regarding the visa issue. As far as France is concerned, they (visas) have been lifted because we respect our word. Today, promises are not being kept. I expect a genuine commitment from these two authorities (Kosovo and Serbia) to move forward in the coming weeks. This is the condition for peace in the entire region,” is the accurate translation of Macron’s statement.

With clarification about Macron’s statement, the embassy of France in Pristina issued a response.

According to them, Macron mentioned visa liberalization in the context of the demand directed towards Kosovo to hold elections in the northern municipalities with the participation of Serbs and their return to Kosovo’s institutions.

“He called for a sense of responsibility from Serbian President Vučić, and he had the same expectations from the Kosovar President and Prime Minister. It was precisely in this context that he also mentioned the issue of visa liberalization, which was a gesture of trust but was not reciprocated during this period. Therefore, he expects the Kosovar authorities, as well as the Serbian authorities, to respect their word and recommit to moving forward in the coming weeks,” the French Embassy’s response further states.

The French embassy has added that the emphasis in Macron’s statement was more on the demand for responsibility from Vučić for the events of September 24.

In addition to numerous reactions on social media, including insults and attacks against Macron and France, there were also responses from high-ranking state officials. Kosovo’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Donika Gërvalla, posted on the “X” platform the French flag with the caption “Et viola,” which translates to “there you go” in English.

Following this post, Gërvalla received numerous comments, seeking clarification regarding the meaning of such a statement.

Regarding the positions of the President of France, President Vjosa Osmani has also spoken. She stated that this issue has been clarified, and the French institutions have informed them that it was a kind of translation difference. She added that any clarification President Macron and the French institutions require can be provided to dispel the doubts they have.

The decision to liberalize visas for Kosovo was taken in April of this year by the EU Council and was published in the official European Union Gazette, which will come into effect on January 1, 2024.

To suspend this decision, another decision must be taken by the EU Council. This can be done upon request by the European Commission or by a member state. The decision to suspend must pass through a vote among the Council members. There are four scenarios when the visa suspension mechanism would be activated – In case of a significant increase in irregular migration; In case of a significant – over 50% – increase in low acceptance rate asylum applications, around 3-4%; In case of a decrease in cooperation for the readmission of excluded EU citizens resulting from irregular stay; In case of an increased security risk to EU member states, particularly for serious criminal activities.

So far, only once has an EU member state requested the suspension of visa liberalization for a country in the region.

In 2019, the Netherlands had requested the suspension of visa liberalization for Albania, noting that Albanian citizens involved in organized crime posed a threat to the national security of their country. The European Commission had rejected this request.

*This article is published as part of the Western Balkans Regional Initiative against disinformation. Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: exposing malign influences through watchdog journalism.