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Honourable Mayor [of Obiliq/Obilic, Xhafer Gashi], ladies and gentlemen,
It is a big honour and a pleasure for me to be here with you today in my personal commitment to support Kosovo. Part of this commitment is to bring Kosovo closer to the European Union in many sectors. This is one of the most important ones: energy and sustainable development. Energy and environment, we need both. We have to preserve the environment, but we need energy. It is possible to have both; it is a matter of technology and resources.
Preserving the environment is about preserving the future of Kosovo. It is about taking care of the present, but at the same time taking care of the future.
Kosovo needs clean rivers, cleaner air and cleaner soil. It is a matter of the health of the people and to preserve nature for the generations to come.
You know better than I do that air pollution is a major problem for Kosovo. Several cities in the region are among the most polluted cities in the world. Pristina knows this very well, as your city has long been among the most air-polluted in the world. It is difficult to believe, but this is the case.
In general, coal plants in Western Balkans are serious polluters, with very damaging effects on the health and well-being of the people. When we talk about pollution, we talk about lives. Because air pollution kills. A lot of people who live where pollution is have shorter lives and worse diseases. That is why citizens rightly demand from their governments that they take action quickly, without delay. Because every day counts.
Today we are here to mark a major investment by the European Union. We are very happy to be able to provide €76 million to assist Kosovo in tackling air pollution and curbing emissions. Things will be very different when this work is finished.
This support comes in addition to the support that I am very proud to say that we have been providing to Kosovo over the past 10 years. The European Union alone – I am not talking about the Member States - has provided over €1 billion of budget support to Kosovo. I am proud - in the name of EU taxpayers - to say that, because it is a way of showing solidarity and working for a better future for all of us.
In this project that has been launched and financed, there will be new filters that will reduce emissions on this Kosovo B power plant, in line with European standards. You will have cleaner air and you will be fulfilling European standards, because in Europe we require all power plants to be respectful of the environment. Being on the European path and way requires –among other things - that your power plants work according to these standards.
We have also been investing on water supply. Today, Pristina has clean water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and tens of thousands people enjoy first class district heating.
I am saying that because I am proud of it, not because you have to be thankful. It is a matter of solidarity, and solidarity among Europeans is one of the key aspects of European Union-building.
I come from Spain. Spain has received a lot of European money, many, many years ago and now other countries are receiving the same kind of solidarity. I think that this support has to continue in the future. I know that people in Kosovo are worried about things that I am not going to try to solve today like visa liberalisation, but it should not be forgotten that apart from this problem the European Union is bringing a strong support to the development of Kosovo. I want to underline that we hope and expect that our determination will also be matched by that of Kosovo's policy-makers. And I am happy to know that maybe in the next weeks you will have finally a government. This will help to bring Kosovo closer to the European Union and in the long-term the environment and climate change will become common endeavours.
We have launched what we call the ‘European Green Deal’. I like to call it the ‘European Green Will’ because more than a deal it is a will or it should be a will because it will require massive political will to achieve the goals on carbon emissions and climate neutrality by 2050.
Kosovo, as part of Europe, needs to be a part of this joint effort. Because we know that CO2 emissions do not know borders. We, human beings, we face borders and sometimes it is difficult to get across the border. The borders are there and they are the wounds that the history has been marking on the skin of the earth. Blood and fire have been used to mark borders. The borders are wounds on the skin of the earth and you have to try to heal them. If you could, vanish them, for people to be free to move and share a common future. But CO2 does not know borders, it does not matter where the CO2 is coming from. When we are cleaning the air here in Kosovo we are cleaning our atmosphere. There is only one and we share it. It does not matter where we contaminate it, the consequences are suffered by all human beings. This is why putting the contamination in another country does not solve the problem, because the atmosphere does not care where the CO2 is coming from. We share a same challenge and we have to share solutions.
That is why we have been working on what we call the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans. This will focus on circular economy, avoiding waste, on climate action, de-pollution and biodiversity. As Vice-President of the European Commission I want to share with you this will and to announce that this project is part of a big endeavour on renewables, energy efficiency, which is part of the solution. This is an emergency. We need to act quickly. It does not mean that the future of the energy will be based on coal, but we have this coal plant and it has to be working according to the best parameters and not jeopardise the health of the citizens.
This will make this region more attractive. It will positively affect tourism, for example, and it will unlock significant economic potential of the green economy. So I think it is a good idea to implement this project and for me it is a big pleasure to be part of it and share with you this moment when we launch this work that will be benefitting a lot, Mr Mayor, your town, and all of Kosovo.
Let us put that at the top of the political agenda. That is why we have been working on this Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, and I hope that in Zagreb at the next meeting between the European Union and the countries of the Balkans we are going to push in order to work together to face our common challenges.
Thank you very much for your presence and I wish you a better future.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-183854