European Union External Action

Kosovo’s next decade: Advancing the Reform Making, Regional Cooperation and EU Integration

27/04/2018 - 11:32
Voices and views

Remarks by Nataliya Apostolova, Head of EU Office in Kosovo/EU Special Representative at the Policy Forum: Kosovo’s next decade: Advancing the Reform Making, Regional Cooperation and EU Integration

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Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting me to be part of this very interesting panel discussion with eminent high-level practitioners. As EU Head of Office/ EUSR for Kosovo I will not presume to speak about the enlargement perspective of the other countries represented at this panel, but focus on Kosovo.

What we can say though for certain is congratulation: for both Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia the European Commission has recommended to the Council in the recently published Enlargement Strategy that accession negotiations be opened with both countries in light of the progress achieved, maintaining and deepening the current reform momentum.

The WB strategy, adopted in February, sends a very strong and unambiguous signal about the European perspective of the entire Balkan region.

But it also details the roadmap to get there. Kosovo has made progress in recent years. But a lot remains to be done.

There are no shortcuts to membership: it requires a tough transformation process. Progress fully depends on the objective merits and concrete results achieved by each.

Building on previous reports last year, the report offers greater comparability between the countries, allowing for an overall assessment where Enlargement countries stand on preparation for the challenges of EU membership.

That also means that the EU acquis requirements against which Kosovo are comparable throughout the region.

The report offers two kinds of analyses: of Kosovo’s progress since the last report in November 2016 and of Kosovo’s overall alignment with EU legislation and practice, as contained in the Stabilisation and Association agreement between the EU and Kosovo. The report shows where progress has been made, where problems persist and what steps remain necessary to advance reform.

These 17 months since the last report, in Kosovo have been marked by parliamentary and local elections and a persistent polarisation amongst the political parties. This has adversely affected the role of the Assembly and have impacted the effectiveness of the government to deliver sustained reform.

There have been successes. The ratification of the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro in March 2018 was an important breakthrough, a long awaited and crucial step towards visa liberalisation.

The most pressing issue for Kosovo is addressing reforms in the area of rule of law, fundamental rights and good governance and to work together for reconciliation and good neighbourly relations. This means, a more determined fight against organised crime and corruption, a stronger and more independent judiciary, a more efficient and effective public administration; It means building an education system which prepares Kosovo's youth for a stronger and a more competitive economy. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement, which entered into force in 2016, is our contractual agreement and represents the framework for these reforms. Kosovo needs to continue to actively implement this agreement.

I don't want to rehash what the report says in detail. I trust most of you have read it by now. If not, I highly recommend to do so. The report is still the most comprehensive and, I dare say, authoritative assessment of where Kosovo stands, where progress has been made, and where more efforts are necessary.

We are happy to note that the report has already been widely assessed and that the Government, and political parties in the Assembly, have stressed the need to now take concrete steps to tackle the challenges outlined in the report.

We will discuss now, with Minister Hoxha, with Prime Minister Haradinaj, the action plan discussed and adopted in government yesterdays and how to jointly address the priorities and the way of their implementation.

In fact, this week, we are holding joint EU-Kosovo discussions under the SAA umbrella, the so-called Public Administration Reform Special Group, on the very important, ongoing work on strengthening the public sector, its ability to deliver services top citizens and businesses. The reform package of laws (organisation of public administration, salaries and the civil service) will feature prominently in those discussions as well as the ongoing assessment which we are doing with regards to our Sector Budget Support.

It is very good also that the Assembly has already held lively debate on the report and we will equally be talking to the political parties in this regard.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to also briefly link all of this to the wider regional context. Regional co-operation is at the heart of the Western Balkan Strategy and your European Perspective. In order to advance together towards the EU, the region as a whole is going to have to address the legacies of the past. The strategy clearly spells out the priorities and areas of joint reinforced cooperation and good neighbourly relations. Kosovo, but also Serbia, must intensify efforts to normalise relations. For both, there can be no alternative path to a European future.

But reconciliation is also forward-looking, which is why we have given so much importance to providing opportunities to your region’s young people. Joining the EU is also a generational choice.

The EU as ever is standing with Kosovo to facilitate economic reforms to prepare Kosovo economies for the economic pressures of the internal market and businesses’ competitiveness.

In order to help the region in this ambitious project, the EU will enhance its engagement with the region. Our Strategy outlines 6 new flagship initiatives focusing on the rule of law; security and migration; socio-economic development; connectivity; the digital agenda; and reconciliation and good neighbourly relations.

The Western Balkans summit (WB6 + EU28) will take place on 17 May 2018 in Sofia. This is another significant opportunity. Indeed the Berlin process and the strategic outlook provided by the Western Balkan Strategy of the Commission are linked.

The EU has invested heavily in improving connectivity in the Balkans, whether in developing your transport and energy infrastructures. We will continue to do so and deepen that support.

The upcoming Sofia Summit is a historic opportunity to showcase Kosovo's engagement for regional co-operation as a vector for advancing on the EU path.

So it is important that Kosovo, and its neighbours, also seize the opportunity of the new momentum created. The best way to do that is by delivering on the reforms, agreed in the regional co-operation agenda whether connectivity or the REA.

Under the Berlin process we have succeeded in together building an extensive connectivity agenda over the last three and a half years, helping to break down the fragmentation of the region, making it more attractive for investors and removing technical and other artificial barriers to trade and economic development. National implementation of urgent reform measures is crucial, be those on ratification of CEFTA additional protocol 5 on trade facilitation, working towards a solution of the energy issue with Serbia to unlock the potential of a regional energy market or advancing on the Transport Community Treaty ratification.

Thank you