It is my pleasure to address you on such an important gathering and I would like to thank for the invitation.
I feel to highlight at the beginning of my address that the EU remains committed to the European perspective of the Western Balkans, including Kosovo, in the line with the conclusions of the EU Council that took place in Thessaloniki in June 2003. We will, together with our Member States, continue to help, assist and invest in Kosovo's future, as much as we do in other countries of the region. Since 2003, the EU commitment to Western Balkans was reiterated at several instances and translated into various instruments. There is no doubt that Western Balkans have a clear European future. And today, the presence of the representatives of the Foreign Affairs Committees of the national parliaments of the Member States and countries of the region is one of the results of the EU commitment.
Kosovo has now reached a challenging moment in its European path. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement is a milestone for Kosovo. Stabilisation and Association Agreements are now in place with all countries of the region. Sometimes it is challenging to explain to the electorate its benefits. Stabilisation and Association Agreement is a long term investment. Politically, the Agreement aims to support Kosovo's efforts to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and to contribute to Kosovo's political and institutional stability. It will introduce higher standards for consumer protection, leading to an increased safety for Kosovo's consumers. It will lead to a more predictable business environment, with better safety for both domestic and foreign investors, and create more jobs for Kosovo's people.
But a lot depends on how the Agreement will be implemented. Implementation of this comprehensive agreement will facilitate the gradual alignment of Kosovo's legislation with the whole body of EU law and standards, thus creating new impetus for the Kosovo economy in attracting investments. Implementation builds upon what we call 'track record', important for further stages on the EU journey.
Here, I want to commend Kosovo Government and Assembly for embracing European Reform Agenda launched by the EU as a tool for the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. This document which was developed jointly by Kosovo Government and the EU, shows the serious commitment of the Kosovo institutions to undertake concrete actions in three ´key areas': good governance and rule of law, investment climate and employment and education. The European Reform Agenda should stimulate delivery on concrete acts, and I invite Kosovo institutions to continue with eagerness and increased energy in implementation of these actions.
I also want to underline that Kosovo has made significant progress in fulfilling the requirements of the visa liberalisation roadmap, 93 of the 95 visa liberalisation roadmap conditions have been met by Kosovo. As a result, Kosovo's institutions and laws are in better shape today than before to meet their obligations. We stand ready to assist Kosovo in fulfilling the two remaining requirements. Kosovo politicians are now holding the key to make progress on visa liberalisation: ratification of the demarcation agreement is something that needs to be fulfilled, and to continue already undertaken good steps in strengthening its track record in the fight against organised crime and corruption.
I would encourage Kosovo's politicians both from the government and the opposition, in the interest of all Kosovo's citizens, to find the necessary consensus to fulfil the remaining two requirements without further delay in order to allow the European Parliament and EU Council to decide on granting visa liberalisation.
In Kosovo, the polarisation between the ruling coalition and the opposition parties over the last year and a half has resulted in a political deadlock. Despite the fact that opposition parties have resumed their functions in the assembly, the polarisation between them and the governing coalition continues to considerably slow down legislative procedures.
Nevertheless, despite the political deadlock and polarisation, I want to highly praise the Kosovo leadership for courage to remain committed not only to the reforms but also to the EU facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. And we recognise, it is not easy to remain focused to achieve cumbersome reforms in such a difficult and sensitive environment as it has been in the last years in Kosovo.
The EU has followed very closely the developments in relations between Kosovo and Serbia over the past weeks. Recent incidents with the wall in Mitrovica and train in Serbia presented a potential security risk and we are pleased they were overcome. As the HR/VP Federica Mogherini noted after the last High Level meeting between both parties - Presidents and Prime Ministers's - on 4 February: ´The Dialogue is very important process for Serbia and Kosovo, but also for the region and the European Union. Progressing in the normalisation of relations is key for both to preserve peace and advance towards the EU. It is essential for Europe and for regional stability.´
Let me now stress the role for national parliaments - to discuss real issues facing your countries, economy, education, structural reforms, rule of law, because all the political focus is on these highly emotive and sensitive issues.
We would like to see in our enlargement countries national parliaments at the heart of the reform process to ensure democratic accountability and inclusiveness, a pre-requisite not least for successful reform process. Parliaments must be house for discussions and a place where compromises could be agreed.
What I have observed since my arrival in last September is the need to build a culture of a political compromise also on sensitive issues and enhance the role of the Assembly in various field: oversight functions of the Assembly; supervision and support of the Stabilisation Association Agreement process; strengthening the administrative and professional support to the committees and MPs related to the tasks of the European integration process, to work even more closely with local civil society actors to anchor reforms across the society.
In particular, I want to underline the need for the Assembly to develop a strategy to strengthen international cooperation and inter-parliamentary relations, both bilateral and multilateral relations, the relations with the international organisations and the inter-parliamentary cooperation frame. This event today is clearly a right step in the direction of inter-parliamentary cooperation and I wish you a successful meetings and all the success with the important work that you are accomplishing in the Foreign Affairs Committees.