Welcoming speech by Nataliya Apostolova, Head of EU Office in Kosovo/EU Special Representative at the Europe Day Reception in Pristina
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Dear Ms Kelmendi,
Dear nominees for the 2017 European of the Year award in Kosovo,
Dear Prime Minister,
Dear representatives of the EU family,
Dear representatives of the Kosovo society,
It feels good to be in company of so many people sharing our common European values, both from our EU family and from Kosovo. I am glad to welcome you in the Kosovo Museum, which was reconstructed with the EU support.
I am especially honoured to have with us today the best of Kosovo, its youth: 1) Ms Majlinda Kelmendi, the first winner of the European of the Year award in Kosovo last year, and the winner of everything that a sportsperson can win, including the Olympic gold – congratulations!; 2) Kosovo's best dancers; and 3) Kosovo's civil society dedicated to the promotion of the European idea.
Europe Day celebrates peace and unity in Europe. It celebrates our common values of solidarity, democracy, rule of law, and freedom.
I am happy to be in Kosovo whose people share these European values, and want to see them translated into stability, economic growth and prosperity. I am happy to work for the European Union which is here to support Kosovo people in seizing this opportunity.
Kosovo is a young democracy facing many challenges. But Kosovo has an incredible human resource in its youth. That is why I am confident about a Kosovo with courage and vision to move forward, beyond daily politics, able to unite around the European idea, using the best and the brightest from all of its communities to build together a future of hope and a future of success.
And because this cannot happen without a joint work by many: political representatives, institutional representatives, civil society, artists, media and citizens, we felt that it would be the right time to acknowledge at least some who have been promoting and advocating the European idea and values in Kosovo.
I am happy to see that true Europeans come from all layers of the society: the institutions as well as from civil society; we find them in sports halls and among local communities. They selflessly walk that extra mile because they believe that they are doing the right thing. They work hard. They make us proud. They motivate us. Those are our Europeans.
I am very proud that we have the first European of the Year with us today. Ms Kelmendi, who happens to be born on Europe Day, 9 May, is a true inspiration, encouragement to many children across Kosovo that a dream can come true if you believe in it and if you work hard.
Fortunately, Kosovo has many inspirational people, which is why it has not been easy at all to select this year's winner.
But in the end, the EU in Kosovo has this year decided to acknowledge three individuals and institutions we believe have embodied the European spirit in Kosovo. We know that there are many more. And we will award some of them next year. We will hear their names shortly, and the reasons why we think they deserve our nomination, and the award.
The EU has supported and will continue to support Kosovo on its European path. The benefits will of course not be handed on a silver plate. Kosovo has to seize them through hard work, dedication and unity.
I am convinced that a process as important as the European integration has made Kosovo change for the better. It may not be enough still, but when we talk about the rule of law or economy, it is through these concrete reforms that a change is made.
Here I want to highlight the importance of education: the need to reform the education system so that it enables Kosovo youth to have equal chances of success, be competitive on the labour market and build a Kosovo of economic and social prosperity.
And for Kosovo to move forward, for its youth to have a real chance of success, a stronger economy is needed. Thorough the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, and through a mechanism for implementation of the most urgent SAA measures known as the European Reform Agenda, Kosovo has a chance to become more competitive, attract more investment, have more and better quality products for its citizens, which due to a competition can be cheaper.
This will create new jobs, improve people's lives, and give a long-term perspective to the youth.
We also count on our Europeans of the Year and all the nominees – to keep working on and promoting our shared values, so to keep changing Kosovo for the better.
Thank you all! Happy Europe Day and, congratulations!