European Western Balkans

Bekim Çollaku for EWB: Paving the way for a successful year of EU integration for Kosovo in 2015

The last few years following the Declaration of Independence of Kosovo were marked by an increasing dynamic in the European Union (EU) integration agenda. The start of negotiations on the Stabilization and Association Agreement last years and its initialing this year present a milestone on this process. In addition, the usual exchange forums have continued. Kosovo and EU officials have met regularly through the Stabilization and Association Process Dialogue, the main framework of exchange between the EU and Kosovo. In addition Kosovo and the European Commission have continued their mutual engagement through the Visa Liberalization Dialogue and the Structured Dialogue on the Rule of Law.

The snap election in June 2014 and the lengthier government formation process that ensued may have had an impact on the reform agenda. But it should not be forgotten that the period leading up to the elections saw an overall positive political campaign focusing on important issues of economic development and employment. The elections, were well-organized, transparent and for the first time were held in the whole of Kosovo’s territory and with good participation of the minority communities and thus given a good evaluation from the EU and the rest of the international community. The period after the elections has not been easy. Maybe we can find some consolation in the fact that this is quite a normal occurrence in democracies, and that it also happens in the EU. Finding good solutions sometimes can prove hard and lengthy – the important thing is that everything occurred peacefully, and that the independent institutions, in particular the Constitutional Court, played their role outstanding role in addressing all legal and constitutional disputes.

In spite of this, 2014 is proving to have been an important year for Kosovo in terms of receiving reassurances that things are going in the right direction on priority items on the EU integration agenda. The year 2009 marked the first big post-independence step confirming Kosovo’s EU perspective, when the European Commission published its Communication on Kosovo. However, for a long time since then we have continued to recall the communication recommendations, while the EU counterparts were not always able to fully reciprocate our hard work. This was largely due to the internal objections in the EU primarily driven by their own political considerations. Five years on, as noted above, the most significant news is that Kosovo has now negotiated and initialed the SAA with the EU, and we stand ready to sign it once the internal process of the EU has taken its course. We welcome very much this new breakthrough which according to many in my country is overdue since Kosovo has long expressed the wish to undertake the obligations under an SAA. The Visa Dialogue is well under way. A second evaluation report from the European Commission has confirmed good progress and has outlined the final steps toward finally obtaining visa free travel for our citizens. Thus, a good portion of promises of the 2009 Communication have been fulfilled, but some remain to be pushed forward.

Much work remains to be done for Kosovo in this long and complex process of the EU integration process. In terms of next year, I believe that the above background provides a good basis on which to plan for the future. Those interested in technical details can look forward to our European Partnership Action Plan. Moreover, further work can be expected by all institutions involved in finishing up the necessary tasks to complete the visa liberalisation dialogue leading to visa free travel for Kosovo citizens. On this objective, as we are in the last phase, and we’re doing everything possible to curb illegal migration.

The EU integration process is pushed forward by long-term processes and gradual reform. As such, it is useful to look at the processes and reforms as indicators. In the coming year, we will be looking at a busy period with further progress of the successes achieved so far. In fact, the best forecast of what will happen in Brussels can be estimated through developments at home. Our integration progress depends on the work that will be done from our side, and the continuous support we receive from our international partners. What will make a difference is the continued focus on key challenges such as the improvement and extension of a sustainable rule of law throughout the territory of Kosovo, the fight against organized crime and corruption, improvement of economic governance and prudent fiscal policies, improving employment rates as well as reforming public administration. In this regard, close cooperation with EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo EULEX remains critical. In particular, we expect from EULEX to increase its performance in helping us to implement the achieved agreements in the dialogue with Serbia and improve the rule of law in the northern part of Kosovo. In terms of dialogue with Serbia, we remain committed to it and ready to achieve further agreements until we fully normalize the relations. Still, while the main burden remains on the Kosovo institutions to perform well, the EU in return must also stick to its reiterated promises for a true EU perspective for Kosovo, as for the rest of the region.

The author is the Minister of European Integration in the Government of the Republic of Kosovo.

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