Western Balkans

The speech by Ambassador Nataliya Apostolova at the publication of 2018 Kosovo Report

17/04/2018 - 17:31
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With this year's Enlargement package and country reports the European Commission reconfirms its continued commitment to the European perspective of Kosovo and to the fundamental EU values as essential to enlargement.

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Dear ambassadors,

Representatives of the press,

Ladies and gentlemen,

  • With this year's Enlargement package and country reports the European Commission reconfirms its continued commitment to the European perspective of Kosovo and to the fundamental EU values as essential to enlargement.
  • These are: rule of law, including security, fundamental rights, democratic institutions and public administration reform, as well as economic development and competitiveness. A strong role for civil society and stakeholders more broadly remains crucial in all reform efforts.
  • 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 benchmarks against which Kosovo is assessed is the same as 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.
  • Further, in comparing the report of 2016 with the current report, in a number of areas recommendations given already in 2016 have not been followed up and are repeated in this report. The assessment is not as positive as I and you would have hoped it would be, but it reflects an honest assessment of the state of play of Kosovo's development towards meeting accession criteria and the progress made since the last report in November 2016. We strongly advise to particularly look at those recommendations and to start addressing them.

Rule of Law & Visa Liberalisation track record

  • Kosovo has strengthened its legal framework governing the management of regular and irregular migration, with the new laws on foreigners, asylum and state border. Progress has been also noted as regards the track record on the investigation and prosecution for high level corruption and organised crime cases. The assessment for this continues, also in light of the latest ongoing information provided by the Kosovo authorities. An expert mission will visit the country in the next couple of weeks to carry out this assessment of the latest developments.
  • The Kosovo Report looks at the overall fight against corruption and organised crime in all spheres of Kosovo society addressed by the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The report takes a broader and more long-term assessment of Kosovo's ability to ensure effective rule of law, including the fight against corruption and organised crime. This remain at an early stage and a lot more needs to be done to reach the obligations under the EU accession process, also taking into account the comparatively low level Kosovo started from – particularly with regards to a functioning judiciary. While there have been some improvements of legislation – for instance the law on prevention of conflict of interest corruption and organised crime is still endemic in Kosovo and more effective judicial enforcement is necessary.
  • On the Judiciary, Kosovo remains at an early stage of alignment with the EU law and building an effective judiciary. The report commends the further implementation of the 2015 judicial package and particularly the integration of judges and prosecutors in the north. However, important challenges remain to be addressed: the administration of justice is slow and inefficient, concern remains over the quality of some judgements and the vulnerability of the judicial system to undue political influence as well as a lack of funding and human resources, as well as domestic willingness to handle war crimes cases (KLA). The recent adoption of the Law on the State Prosecutor is a good step allowing for the strengthening of the Special Prosecution Office.

Turkish deportation & Specialist Chambers

  • Unfortunately, there have been certain rule of law related decisions, such as the deportation of Turkish nationals which raised many questions in Brussels, on due process. The attempts by members of the Assembly in December 2017 to abrogate the Law on Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor's Office have raised serious concerns as to Kosovo's commitment to fulfil its international obligations.

Public Administration Reform

  • On public administration reform the report notes some progress made with the review in 2016 which was done and the ongoing work to address the fragmentation, limited accountability and overlapping responsibilities of agencies and bodies. Further, there is good work being done to draw up a comprehensive package of legislative reforms of the organisation of public administration, the civil service and salaries. We are hoping that Kosovo can make major steps forward soon with the adoption of a good package of laws by the end of this year. This builds on years of patient work and progress made – of the current government and the previous one.
  • We note continued concern over some appointments (and in some cases dismissals) to senior civil service, independent institutions and agencies which are not merit-based and appear subject to undue political influence. This continues to undermine the functioning and effective public sector management and public enterprises. The EU has been insisting, and will continue to do so, for such appointments to be done on merit, rather than patronage.

Economy

  • Kosovo has made good progress in putting in place the systems, rules and quality infrastructure for developing a functioning market economy. The business environment has improved. Particularly noted in this regard is increased access to finance (Credit Guarantee fund!), simplified registration procedures. The government has adhered to the fiscal rule on budget deficit; however, war veterans' benefits continue to pose a challenge for future sustainable public finances.  While the labour market participation has increased, this has not been matched but gains in employment yet. The continued weak production base, reliance on remittances and too little investment in productive sectors will remain a challenge for the medium term and the report continues to highlight necessary reforms and work needed to address this, and it is important that financial discipline is maintained.

Energy

  • There has been some progress as regards implementation of parts of the Third Energy Package of the EU acquis. However, key issues such as the decommissioning of Kosovo A and question surrounding the independence of the Energy Regulator remain.
  • We know that in Kosovo's case the delivery on key issues such as energy is impacted by the delay in the implementation, by Serbia, of the energy agreement allowing Kosovo to be part of regional electricity transmission mechanisms.

Key Chapters of concern where no progress is noted:

Unfortunately the report also notes that there has been no progress in key areas such as Education and Environment & Climate Change:

  • On Education it remains absolutely necessary to improve the quality of education, which is a key driver of long-term competitiveness and growth. A new law for higher education and further efforts at curricula reforms (incl VET) remains necessary, with a view to a reform based on the best standards, including ensuring the autonomy and independent operation of higher education institutions and quality assurance mechanisms.
  • There remain serious environmental problems, which are unaddressed, and which continue to impact people's livelihoods and health. This has to be prioritised more by all actors in Kosovo. Inspection systems do not work and environmental damages and crime legislation remains unenforced. Hazardous mine waste, and industrial dumpsites continue to pose a serious risk to soil and water. Air pollution levels are hazardous and urgent measures are needed, in particular, to reduce household reliance on lignite heating. Waste management, a competence of local government, remains broadly unsustainable and poses considerable long-term risks.

Looking ahead/ Guidance

  • The issues I have outlined are but a snapshot of the whole report. It is important to remember that we cover the entire breadth and depth of our EU-Kosovo relationship, including on many technical areas. As I said at the beginning, there are areas where progress has been made, and there are areas where much more is needed for Kosovo to fulfil the requirements of EU accession. This is a long road.
  • For Kosovo, no doubt, at times the work ahead can seem demanding, but if the momentum of the WB strategy, the renewed commitment and focus of the EU on the region is used then catching up is possible.
  • The report, throughout, gives key concrete guidance to Kosovo for the next 12 months which the institutions should take forward with urgency. This should be understood as positive guidance to help Kosovo to move forward. The EU will continue to support Kosovo where there is willingness to make progress.
  • In February 2018, the Commission published its Western Balkan Strategy, which sends a very strong and unambiguous signal about the European perspective of the entire Balkan region. However, it made clear that 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 partner, Kosovo included.
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