Pristina, 5 May 2016
Speaker of the Parliament,
Prime Minister, Ministers,
Honourable Members of Parliament
And above all, dear people of Kosovo,
First of all let me thank you very much for the honour you give me in allowing me to address you in this Parliament. I'm honoured and proud. You are showing the European Union that it is empowered to unite. Today we also celebrate the power of unity and what it can deliver which is change, change which the people of Kosovo want. This is a very important day for Kosovo and for its people. Yesterday I think we achieved in Brussels a very important step, and that is thanks to the work you have done. Today is not only a day to celebrate, it is also a day to look beyond to our common future and start planning the work ahead.
Just one month ago we announced the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between our Union and Kosovo. Yesterday the European Commission proposed to open the Schengen zone to visa-free travels for Kosovars. These steps mean so much to your people, but let me tell you very honestly they also mean so much to our Union.
In just a few days, on Monday, we will celebrate the “birthday” of our European Union, Europe Day. And yet, many believe there are not so many reasons to celebrate this cause. For the first time in our history, our Union risks to move backwards, instead of moving forward towards more integration.
But when I look at this part of Europe, and Kosovo in particular, I see a vision of Europe united. The road we are walking together shows what the European Union is all about.
Our Union is about peace and stability – and together we are working for reconciliation and true peace in the Balkans.
Our Union is about the freedom to move across borders – and I am so glad that we can show to our peoples that we can remove obstacles to free circulation, instead of building walls and fences.
Our Union is about the wellbeing of our people – and this is crystal clear when you look at the work we are doing, and let me tell you that we must do much much more together, to promote economic growth, to fight corruption, to provide our people with better opportunities and a better chance to fulfil their aspirations, especially the young people of Kosovo and the rest of Europe.
In our common work we see Europe at its best. We see our Union’s full potential and I thank you for that. Let me also promise you that we will keep working together. On our side, from my side, this is an institutional, political and personal commitment, because in order to advance we need to work together.
Only sixteen years ago, this was a region at war. But in eight years, Kosovo has taken giant steps on its European path.Your people want to move towards our European Union – and I mean all the people of Kosovo. When you all share the same goal, this parliament has shown that progress is possible – and it can happen much faster than anyone would believe.
Our proposal for visa-free travels to the Schengen area is a very concrete proof of your hard work, and the potential of your work. The whole of Kosovo has united towards the common goal of free travel, and you have opened the path for this to happen. When I say you, I mean politicians and parliamentarians, mayors, police women and men, customs officials, judges, prosecutors, the ombudsperson and each and every Kosovar. This is a collective effort. I know how much this means to the people of Kosovo, and you can continue to count on me and on the European institutions to do all that we can, and personally, to do all that I can, to make sure that our Member States and the European Parliament take this recommendation forward as soon as possible. We need to work together on this and help each other as we move forward.
The same unity has led Kosovo and our Union to reach the Stabilisation and Association agreement. The same unity will be necessary to make it deliver for everyone.
As discussed with the President and the Prime Minister, the Agreement can boost job creation. It can make life much easier for your firms, and it can increase protections for consumers. It can help your public administration become more efficient, and guarantee that everyone has the same duties and the same rights. It can help your transport and energy infrastructure integrate into European markets. But for this to happen, this Assembly will have to work hard and choose reforms against inaction.
Kosovo won't make it, if political fights count for more than common success. All European democracies have experienced extreme partisanship, and standstill. I come from a country that has some experience with that and I've been in national Parliament myself, so I know what it means and I know what it takes. Making a conflictual democracy work is definitely not an easy task. But when a country’s fundamental choices are at stake, the only way is taking a deep breath, focus on what we need and want, and serve the country with responsibility, respect and dialogue. That is what it takes.
Such dialogue needs to take place in here, within the democratic institution of the Assembly, but also outside as we have seen more recently. You can count on the European Union to help with every single step. I am glad and grateful that leaders of the government and the opposition gathered together to discuss the Agreement and the way forward. I'm glad that it is Europe and European integration that have brought the sides together. It puts a lot of responsibility on our shoulders, and also on yours.
Political differences will not disappear – and they should not disappear. This is what democracy is about. But a young, responsible democracy needs all parties and all actors to sit at the same table, and share their vision on the way forward for the country.
When the European Union was founded, the Second World War had only just ended. The memory of violence and destruction was still fresh. And again, I come from a country which experienced war. It required an incredible amount of courage from the leaders of those countries that had been fighting each other for centuries to imagine a united continent, and work to make it happen. Our founding fathers had a clear vision of Europe’s future, of the real interests of their people. This required them to sit down and negotiate the details, the technicalities, each and every step that was necessary to turn their vision into reality. This is what you call leadership, and this is what you need today.
Kosovo and the Balkans need much of the same spirit. The courage of reconciliation. The will to leave the past behind, and the readiness to turn the vision into concrete, coherent and consistent political action every single day.
I am not saying this is easy, I know very well it isn't. As you know, I am facilitating the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade and I know all the difficulties. I understand the emotions and the fears. But the people of Kosovo and of the Balkans have so much to gain from reconciliation, and from finding a way of putting an end to old, painful disputes. We have the duty, for the younger generations of our countries, to build trust through concrete action and daily choices. That is what the dialogue is and has to be about.
Progress in the Dialogue is progress for your entire societies, for the region as a whole and for the European Union. I know this is not easy, but as we celebrate the results of our hard work, this is the best day to speak openly as friends. There are high expectations at all levels, for the Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo to be established. I know this has sparked a strong debate within your society, and here. But the agreement you have reached after long and hard negotiations, is solid.
This Association/Community will not be a parallel government within Kosovo and it will not pass its own laws. It will be set up within the existing legal and governance framework of Kosovo. It will follow the recent ruling of the Constitutional Court, which provides guidance to ensure that the Statute of the Association/Community will reflect Kosovo's laws when it is drafted.
The integrity of Kosovo is not at stake. On the contrary, the Association/Community can fortify and enrich Kosovo. It will allow the Serb community of Kosovo to fully integrate into society and it can be a step towards a stronger Kosovo, not a weaker one, in a more stable region.
“Unity in diversity” sounds great, but is very hard to achieve. It is hard for Kosovo, and it is hard for the European Union as well. Still, you have a responsibility to strengthen Kosovo, your society, your region and Europe. I'm sure you will fulfil your responsibility in this task. Unity in diversity is not only the European Union's motto, it could well be one for Kosovo. There is a lot of work to do here and inside our European Union. But this is the way we have chosen, and rightly so. Our common path can become so much easier, if we understand that we can help each other, as a family.
Sometimes we hear about the European path, but let me be very clear about this: Kosovo is Europe. I believe this is true for the entire region of the Balkans. We share so many of the same challenges, from migration to terrorism. We have seen too many of our kids in Kosovo, and in European countries joining terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. No country is immune to radicalisation, and we can only succeed if we work and stand together. This has a lot to do with changing and implementing good practices, and the European Union can learn a lot from Kosovo in this regard.
The same is true for the fight against organised crime, or corruption. So let me thank EULEX for the work they are doing, and will keep doing in the years to come.
Cooperation will make us stronger in facing threats and challenges. But it will also make us stronger in our hopes and aspirations. For this reason we are working hard to get Kosovo in a greater number of EU programmes. The first one that comes to my mind is the Erasmus programme, but also Creative Europe, Europe for Citizens, the Civil Protection Mechanism and others.
Your participation in Erasmus shows Europe’s best face – a continent with no cultural borders, a continent where all students have access to the same high standards of teaching, where all students are truly equal. Our engagement in more programmes can provide young Kosovars with better opportunities to show what they’re worth, and to make their dreams come true. But it can also remind us what our Union is really about – despite all difficulties we face.
Whenever I meet young people from Kosovo and the Balkans, I see a vibrant generation that believes in Europe, that believes in the integration process, and belongs in Europe. I see the same ideals of our founding fathers at the end of World War 2. I see the same passions and aspirations of my generation, after the fall of the Berlin wall. In their eyes, in their words, in their enthusiasm, and also in their anger from time to time, I see that our Union is still a land of hope and dreams.
The Balkans should not be a black spot on the map of a united Europe. This region stands at the core of our continent, and it should also be at the core of our Union. This might look like a remote possibility, for a very distant future. But only a few months ago, very few people believed that we could sign a Stabilisation and Association agreement, and move towards visa liberalisation. Yet we have done it.
Change does happen, and we have a duty to make it happen. Things don't happen by chance. Its you that needs to make it happen. The people of Kosovo want Kosovo to move forward. You in this room are the ones who can make it happen. So I'm sure this is just the beginning of a very good story for all of us.
Thank you very much.