European Union Office in Kosovo
European Union Special Representative in Kosovo

EU-facilitated Dialogue is a real accomplishment

19/04/2017 - 14:54

Remarks by Nataliya Apostolova, Head of the EU Office in Kosovo/EU Special Representative at the round table discussion on the topic “Four Years after the April Agreement: How effective is the political dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia?” organised by the Group for Legal and Political Studies

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Mr Prime Minister,

Dear Agron, Fisnik,

Ladies and gentlemen,

  • It is with pleasure that I attend today's roundtable and I thank the Group for Legal and Political Studies for the invitation.
  • Today's discussion takes place against the backdrop of the fourth anniversary of the entry into force of the "First Agreement on Principles Governing the Normalisation of Relations" signed on 19 April 2013. But it also takes place against the first anniversary of the entry into force of the SAA on 1 April last year. Both issues are closely linked. But I will return to this important aspect later.
  • In order to have a meaningful discussion today, we need to look not only at the "First Agreement" but reflect on the Dialogue itself. None of the agreements can be seen in isolation. They are interlinked. They are part of a political process. So we need to broaden our perspective and take a comprehensive look.
  • European and Euro-Atlantic integration should be seen as a national interest of Kosovo, a unifying force and an opportunity for a national consensus in Kosovo.
  • European integration means many things, from sharing values and commitments to the rule of law, socio-economic development, respect for human rights and freedoms, to solving open issues through a dialogue.
  • We believe it is in the national interest of Kosovo, first, to solve open issues with Serbia through normalisation of relations which we define as visible and sustainable improvement of relations aimed at improving the lives of people. Second, to improve relations within Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians in a mutually agreeable way. And third, to help Kosovo achieve progress on its European path.
  • The Pristina-Belgrade Dialogue is a tool that combines all three processes. It is therefore in the national interest of Kosovo to participate in this process and to play a pro-active and constructive role.
  • It is in this context that the agreement on the Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities should be viewed. It was agreed between the two sides within the EU facilitated Dialogue. It is within the Dialogue framework that the EU expects relations between the sides to further normalise and the Association/Community to be established as soon as possible. Progress on the Dialogue is a prerequisite for both to make progress on their respective EU paths.
  • There are – of course – different views on the way it is conducted, or communicated or on results achieved. But it should be the common view and understanding that it is the most important political process in the region and that it has no alternative.  
  • When assessing the dialogue and its results, one needs to recall and compare it to the situation in 2011/2012 when the Dialogue started.
  • Back at the time, there was no European path for Kosovo. The north was under roadblocks with parallel police, justice, civil protection and bridge watchers. Kosovo was excluded from regional meetings. There was no freedom of movement for the citizens of Kosovo. There were no border/boundary controls, no taxes and revenues collected at crossing points.
  • There was no communication between the leaders; they could hardly stay in the same room. There were no contractual relations in place between Serbia and Kosovo, let alone between Kosovo and the EU.
  • What were the objectives when the Dialogue started: improve relations with Serbia, dismantle parallel structures and integrate those into the Kosovo system, reduce tensions and fears, and speed up European processes. Against these, we must assess progress.
  • So let us do that. How do the relations with Serbia look today? We have meetings at all levels, including Presidents and Prime Ministers, cooperation of European ministries, Liaison Offices in Pristina and Belgrade.
  • Kosovo is a member of regional organisations. I would dare to say that Kosovo's participation in the Olympic Games and membership in FIFA and UEFA was made possible also due to the Dialogue.
  • Six crossing points have been established and are functioning well. Customs and excise fees are being collected. To put this in numbers: until today approximately 300 million euros have been collected at the crossing points. This is an impressive sum.
  • Moreover, Kosovo citizens can travel to and through Serbia. Most recently, we have witnessed the implementation of the telecom agreement, with Kosovo getting its own code. Soon, we are expecting the opening of the revitalised Mitrovica bridge.
  • And last but not least: The Stabilisation and Association Agreement was signed between Kosovo and the EU. This is a milestone. For the first time Kosovo entered into a contractual relationship with the EU.

  • Let me be clear: none of this would have happened without the Dialogue.

  • As I indicated before, there are different views as to the results achieved so far and as to the speed of implementation. This is normal and discussions like the one we are having today help clarify and put things into perspective. Public debate is needed and should be a natural part of any democratic society and process.

  • While I honestly believe that the Dialogue is a success story, I also believe it should continue with a greater speed. Implementation could and should be faster. Talks must resume.
  • It is the parties, Kosovo and Serbia, which are the owners of the process. They determine what is being discussed, what is agreed and how it will be implemented. They determine the speed and the topics. Agreements are being reached once common ground is achieved between the two parties. 
  • The EU serves as facilitator, an impartial third party that helps structure communication and decision making between the two parties. Our role is to help Pristina and Belgrade reach mutually acceptable and satisfactory solutions. We guide the process and work with both parties at different levels and in different stages of the process, but we do not have a decision making power.
  • Progress in the process of normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, however, is an essential principle which will underpin the development of relations and cooperation between them and the European Union.

In conclusion,

  • I believe that despite challenges, the EU-facilitated Dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade is a real accomplishment. Yes, it is in times cumbersome and slow. But overall, it has achieved remarkable results.
  • The parties should return to the negotiation table without delay and speed up implementation of the agreements reached. All efforts should focus on finding solutions that are in the interest of the citizens. This will advance both the normalisation of relations and the EU perspective.
  • I think I will leave it here and look forward to a constructive discussion.

Thank you.

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