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Dear esteemed members of parliament, dear Ms Suokko, Mr Murati, Madam Daka, Members of Parliament, representatives of political parties and institutions and partners,
Dear friends in civil society and all those who have joined virtually
I am very happy that you have joined today for this important discussion that we are proud to co-host together with the UNDP Office in Kosovo. We believe it is a timely moment to have a public debate on the important reforms of political party financing are before parliament.
Let me congratulate the Government for moving fast in this file, it adopted the draft law on political party finances in its first months of life, and let me welcome the Assembly of Kosovo- all parliamentary groups for consensually voting in favour of this draft law in the first reading.
We believe it is a timely moment to have a public debate on the important reforms of political party financing are before parliament.
The EU office has engaged closely with the Government, civil society and international partners – the UNDP and the OSCE in particular - and assisted the process of drafting amendments to legal framework governing party finance in Kosovo.
Public accountability and responsibility relies on transparency and oversight.
However, unequal access to money results in an uneven political playing field. Big amounts of money used in election campaigns makes it impossible for those without access to money to compete on the same level as those who are well funded.
There is no doubt that political parties need access to funds in order to play their part in the political process. At the same time, the influence of money in politics is a challenge to democracy worldwide. Kosovo is here no exception.
In 2018, the Prime Minister took the decision to seek the opinion of the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission) - for the first time since Kosovo gained full membership of this body - to seek an opinion from this expert body to aid the design and drafting of this draft law. In June 2018, the Council for Democratic Elections and the Venice Commission adopted its opinion on the draft law and submitted it to Kosovo’s institutions.
We believe it is imperative Kosovo uses this opportunity to highlight its commitment to following this advice and make full use of its guidance, grounded in best European and international practice. These Venice Commission recommendations represent minimum requirement.
Parliamentary parties should heed demands by civil society to ensure that this law is in line with Venice commission legal opinion.
My office has been focusing on the topic of political party finance since many years and has worked on a broad range of activities, including debates on a necessary electoral reform. The EU strongly supports this. It is a key reform under the European Reform Agenda, a recommendation of the EU election observation mission and has been repeatedly highlighted in our annual Kosovo report.
The workshop today aims to advance the debate and stimulate action to improve the role of money in politics in Kosovo.
The legal and institutional framework for political party financial control should adhere to high standards. The institutional structure at the heart of the legislation, namely the new Office for Political Parties within the Central Election Commission, needs to be independent from political party representatives on the board of the CEC in the execution their mandate, its budget and staffing, and decision-making. To quote the Venice Commission, “such independence is fundamental to this body's proper functioning and should be strictly required by law”.
It is common for money in politics to operate behind closed doors and involve shadowy practices. The exact amounts and origins of donations to political parties or candidates are often unknown. This creates a system that is open to abuse. The result is money is given in return for influence. Likewise, if expenditures by political parties, especially during campaigns, are hidden this deprives voters of the possibility to assess where campaign money is being spent and for what purpose. This can have important consequences for instance in the context of spending on positive coverage in media outlets. Timely publication of such accounts is therefore foreseen in the draft law, something the Venice Commission in its opinion strongly welcomed.
For a democracy to be healthy and sustainable, it requires transparent, accountable and inclusive political party finance.
Previous external audits done in Kosovo have unfortunately shown worrying breaches of tax and money laundering laws and hundreds of thousands euros whose provenance cannot be established nor what they have been spent on. Publication is the first step, real accountability has to come with law effective follow-up to these audits.
During debates around this reform, and effective mechanisms for transparency, accountability and enforcement, there are some that say that Kosovo is not mature enough to create effective mechanisms in law yet. That these reforms can work in developed democracies in the EU, but are pre-mature for Kosovo’s political system. I disagree: Ambition is the mother of progress.
Kosovo’s Assembly has before it a very good draft law based on the legal opinion of the Venice Commission. What is now needed is the political will to pass the law and to build the capacity to enforce it.
The unanimous adoption of the draft law in the first reading is a very welcome signal. I hope and call parliamentary groups to engage and the Committee on Budget and Finance focuses on preparation of the draft law for the second reading and the Assembly to move on forward with adoption of the law.
Let me assure you that the EU will continue supporting Kosovo institutions, the CEC with implementation of the law.
I am looking forward to a good debate today.