This is my fourth year in Kosovo; a good time to take stock of our common achievements and the remaining challenges.
Before coming to Pristina, I heard that Kosovo is the home of "young Europeans". I was not sure what this meant at the time other than a reference to Kosovo's demographics. But now I can say with conviction that Kosovo's youth is impressive both in numbers and quality. I participated in debates at schools and universities where I came face to face with engaged and critical thinking youths who at the same time are staunch pro-Europeans. They are Kosovo's biggest asset. They must be provided with adequate support and opportunities to progress and lead Kosovo.
For this to happen, Kosovo needs a modern education system; one that is properly equipped to deal with modern challenges. Unfortunately, the PISA score demonstrates that we are not there yet. More efforts are needed to reverse this trend which is why we, as the EU, have marked education as a top priority in our assistance to Kosovo. We hope our determination to affect change will be matched by Kosovo's policy makers, whether in government or opposition.
Young people also need to be able to access the market on a competitive basis. For this to happen, Kosovo needs to do more in terms of putting in place the necessary economic policies, rule of law guarantees and standards necessary for attracting investments. Kosovo must focus on its competitive advantages and support sectors that will substitute import with export and job-creation.
To make this happen, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), that Kosovo has signed with the EU, can greatly help. However, it needs to be implemented. We have offered the European Reform Agenda (ERA) as a tool for change: I hope that we can launch the next ERA phase quickly with the Government and the EU Enlargement Commissioner.
Finally, the 100% tax also needs to go. It brings instability and disincentives for investments and economic growth.
But all this will not be enough until Kosovo starts fighting corruption in earnest. Young people must see and believe that their progress is the result of their own hard work and merit; not of shady political workings or family connections. The EU has assisted Kosovo's efforts and will continue to do so in the future. In economy, social development and education, rule of law is crucial. It means having the right laws in place, but more importantly, implementing them and not constantly seeking loopholes to not do it. Here, the new government will have a crucial role. And the people will have to hold them accountable: do not let them do away with underperformance in this area. They need to be determined in fighting organised crime and corruption. An efficient and transparent public administration must be promoted. The EU has been supporting Kosovo's effort in this area.
The EU has invested over 2.5 billion euro in every segment of the society. The EU is Kosovo’s top investor, donor and trade partner. We have created thousands of jobs, supported hundreds of companies, and built numerous schools. Thanks to EU funds Pristina has 24/7 water now, and tens of thousands people enjoy first class district heating.
The EU provides strong support to Kosovo on environmental protection. I ask every person in Kosovo to help us in this effort. We need a cleaner Kosovo; cleaner rivers, air, and soil, to improve the health of Kosovo people and to preserve the nature for the generations to come.
The EU is investing up to 76 million euro to reduce pollution and health hazard from the Kosovo B power plant. The European Commission has just launched the “Green Deal” to reach zero carbon emissions and climate neutrality by 2050. Kosovo is Europe and needs to be a part of this joint effort. Like in education, here too, we hope and expect that our determination will be matched by that of Kosovo's policy makers.
And talking about Kosovo's policy makers; on 6 October, the people of Kosovo exercised their democratic right to vote and elected their leaders. Elections were held in a calm and orderly way. Having said that, the protracted post-elections process revealed that significant challenges remain. They can be overcome if all political forces agree on the need for a thorough electoral reform. I believe that this should be treated as a matter of urgency.
Continuation of the Dialogue with Serbia is in Kosovo’s interest. The sooner the normalization of relations happens, the sooner Kosovo will be able to move forward in all directions.
Finally, let me mention visa liberalisation. This is raised in every meeting and encounter I have with people of all ages and I completely understand their frustration and impatience. We want Kosovo people to be able to travel visa free as soon as possible. The European Commission and the European Parliament have said that Kosovo has met all the conditions and recommended that the visas be lifted for Kosovo. A final decision now needs to be taken by the EU Member States. It is my hope that authorities will do everything in their power to convince quickly the EU Member States that granting visa free travel within the Schengen Area for Kosovo people is a win-win for both parties.
Irrespective, not everything evolves around politics, elections or visa liberalisation. Better social services, more gender equality, less domestic violence, stronger civil society, more independent media, investment in culture, and more support and sympathy for different communities and underprivileged groups, is needed in Kosovo for 2020 and beyond.
The EU and Kosovo paths will always be merged. Yet, for Kosovo to succeed in the long term the drive must come from within. No leader should be satisfied with the prospect of its best and brightest wanting to leave. Instead, they must do everything in their power to make them want to stay in Kosovo. I expect nothing less from the Government.
Happy holidays and a peaceful and prosperous new year to all communities in Kosovo!