As we get ready to mark the Europe Day yet again under the COVID-19 conditions, under a “new normal”, I want to use this opportunity to commend the people and the institutions of Kosovo for their resilience and ability to deal with the pandemic as effectively as others in Europe. I am also proud that the European Union has yet again proven its commitment to Kosovo by being its largest supporter also in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like in other aspects of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges on Kosovo’s rule of law institutions. It is vital to ensure that they function well even amid the pandemic restrictions. It is important that we preserve European values and foundations that our societies are built upon.
The rule of law is such a value. The principle of the rule of law is the foundation of a healthy, democratic society and is essential for the safety and security of every person.
Without legal certainty, local businesses cannot develop and grow, foreign investors will stay away, while people cannot live safely and in prosperity. On the other hand, when fully realized, the rule of law provides a guarantee to respecting fundamental rights and freedoms and ultimately the wellbeing of all people.
This is something the international community wants to see in Kosovo. And this is why we are committed to helping Kosovo achieve the best standards when it comes to the rule of law. The EU is currently investing around 50 million euro to strengthen the rule of law in Kosovo, a significant amount that I hope will bring tangible improvements in the future.
In this context, I welcome the draft Kosovo Rule of Law Strategy and the Action Plan, which derive from the Functional Review of the Rule of Law Sector, carried out since 2017 with full support of the EU and other international partners. Together with the partners, the EU has provided feedback on both documents, advocating for a stronger emphasis on gender equality, better solutions for addressing the consequences of the pandemic as well as tackling the lack of implementation of laws particularly in the field of criminal justice.
I believe that these documents are crucial steps towards a unified approach in addressing the challenges of the Kosovo’s rule of law sector. The Strategy presents concrete actions aimed at increasing the effectiveness of anti-corruption mechanism, strengthening the judiciary and the prosecution, improving access to justice as well as reforming the Ministry of Justice in view of EU integration requirements. I hope our comments will be supportive in a timely finalization of the draft Strategy and Action Plan. We stand ready to support its implementation.
Accountability and integrity of various rule of law actors is crucial to ensure a proper functioning of and increasing the public trust in institutions. A number of measures in this regard have been proposed, including performance evaluation, disciplinary measures, background and integrity check. I consider that systematic application of such measures can lead to significant positive results, without hampering the efficiency of the justice sector. In contrast, I advise against a one-off full re-evaluation of rule of law personnel in the current context.
I welcome the Government’s focus on the rule of law and commitment to the fight against corruption and organised crime. We strongly advocate for the improvement of the institutional and legal framework on prevention of corruption by strengthening the mandate and capacities of the Anti-Corruption Agency, and by improving the assets declaration system.
We take note of the approval of a concept paper on confiscation of unjustifiably acquired assets (i.e. civil confiscation) by the Government, based on which a law will be drafted. The reform options foreseen by the concept paper will have to respect the principles enshrined in the Constitution of Kosovo and the fundamental rights of individuals. Importantly, civil confiscation should not replace or undermine the application of the existing legal framework on criminal confiscation, which is both robust and in line with international and European standards. The authorities should focus on its full implementation, increasing the amount of finally confiscated assets through the criminal procedure.
Helping Kosovo achieve tangible improvements in the rule of law is my priority, something that has been close to my heart since I came to Kosovo in September last year. I will continue to support this sector throughout my mandate, because I believe that Kosovo people have the right to expect independent and efficient rule of law institutions in service to them.
I believe that that they have every right to expect from these institutions that they ensure their civil rights and fight corruption and organized crime which we all know deepen economic and social inequality, while depriving especially younger generations of opportunities for a better future.
The youth of Kosovo deserves every opportunity just like their peers in the rest of Europe. For this to happen, it is imperative to have a strong rule of law in place in service of all in Kosovo.
Happy Europe Day!