The European Commission representatives and Kosovo authorities kicked of the series of the 2020 Stabilisation and Association Agreement Sub-Committee meetings with the Subcommittee meeting on Innovation, Information Society and Social Policy which was held on 6th of February in Pristina. The meeting covered a broad range of topics from education, social policies and employment to telecommunication and audio-visual policies, and cultural heritage. The discussion was held in the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), which entered into force in April 2016. In all areas, the Commission and Kosovo agreed on the importance of implementing the relevant European Reform Agenda and Economic Reform Program priorities, as well as the recommendations from the last Commission’s Report on Kosovo and previous sub-Committee conclusions.
On information society, Kosovo described the results already achieved in implementing the Digital Agenda, primarily as regards infrastructure, and the plans to develop services and tackle new digital challenges in the coming years. Kosovo described ongoing work on Cyber Security, the NIS (Security of Network and Information Systems) Directive as well as transposition of the eIDAS (Electronic Identification and Trust Services for Electronic Transactions in the Internal Market) Regulation. The Commission encouraged Kosovo to ensure the financial and organisational independence of the regulatory authority for electronic and postal communication. It also welcomed Kosovo's progress on implementation of the Regional Roaming Agreement.
On audiovisual policy, in particular the digital switchover, the Commission [regretted the lack of progress and ] encouraged the Independent Media Commission to find ways to free up frequencies in the coming year. The Commission also encouraged Kosovo to find a sustainable financing solution for the public broadcaster, in line with the EU acquis. It also called for policy changes relating to the Code of Ethics to Be in line with Council of Europe standards.
On employment, the Commission took stock of the active labour market measures implemented by the Agency for Employment, particularly those targeting youth and women. The parties discussed the draft Labour Law, stressing the importance of ensuring that it contains provisions on maternity and paternity leave in line with the EU acquis. A discussion also took place on health and safety at work legislation and in particular, on increasing the capacity and thus further improve the work of the Labour Inspectorate The parties also discussed the implementation of social dialogue in Kosovo.
On education, the Commission recalled the need to prioritise quality assurance at all levels, from pre-school to higher education. This could primarily be achieved by strengthening quality assurance bodies, namely, the Education Inspectorate and the Quality Coordinators for pre-university education, the Accreditation Agency for higher education and the National Qualifications Authority for vocational education; but also by properly funding education institutions; completing curriculum reform with new better quality textbooks, training possibilities for teachers and by providing new infrastructure for early education. The Commission encouraged the Accreditation Agency to reinstate its efforts to implement the ENQA recommendations to be able to reapply for membership in two years time, and in the meantime to apply for observer status in this organisation. The authorities were encouraged to have the Law on Higher Education adopted, in line with the recommendations provided through the joint EU-Council of Europe Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey, as well as the Law on Pre-school Education. The Commission noted that the authorities are providing a limited number of assistant teachers for children with special needs, but the access to quality education for all, including vulnerable groups and minority communities needs to be improved. On the protection of cultural heritage, the Commission stressed that Kosovo should ensure continued commitment to the Implementation and Monitoring Council and its work and finalise the Law on Cultural Heritage.
Overall for education, but also for science and research, the Commission urged Kosovo to provide accurate data [delete including for the Education and Training 2020 indicators.] and increase government spending.
On research and innovation, the Commission stressed the importance of good research and innovation capacity to increase competitiveness, integration into the European Research Area and improve participation in EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus +, including by appointing focal points for each of the programmes. Kosovo's participation in Horizon 2020 has been particularly high in the year 2019 by competitively gaining well beyond € 1 million from Horizon 2020.
Overall, the cross-cutting nature of ICT skills was discussed, as well as the need to integrate them into the next digital and Education Strategies, also taking account labour market needs.
The meeting was co-chaired by the Ministry for European Integration and the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, with the participation of experts from other directorates general and ministries.
· The Stabilisation and Association Agreement is the framework for the EU and the Kosovo administration to regularly discuss technical and policy issues in relation to the European agenda.
· SA Committee and Sub-Committee meetings are co-chaired by the European Commission and Kosovo. Each meeting results in jointly agreed follow-up actions to be taken by the Kosovo authorities. The conclusions from the meetings are available on the website of the EU Office in Kosovo and the website of the Ministry of European Integration. There are seven areas covered through sectorial meetings of sub-Committees, on Justice, Freedom and Security; Innovation, Information Society, Social Policy, Education and Culture; Trade, Industry, Customs and Taxation; Internal Market, Competition, Consumer and Health Protection; Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, Food Safety; Transport, Environment, Energy, Regional Development; Economic and Financial Issues, Statistics. Two Special Groups cover the reform of the public administration and normalisation of relations with Serbia.