European Western Balkans

Lunacek: The more asylum seekers, the more difficult visa liberalisation will become

Ulrike Lunacek

As everybody knows, on 9 December the Kosovo Assembly approved a new coalition government led by LDK leader Isa Mustafa, with former PM, PDK-leader Hashim Thaci as Deputy PM and Foreign Minister. During my visit in Prishtina at that time I welcomed the conclusion of the six-month political stalemate that has followed the elections. But I also raised my concerns about two things: For one, the fact that at the elections in May/June 2014 Kosovo citizens voted for change. My concern is whether the new government will really be able to deliver the changes and reforms that Kosovo so urgently needs, for its own citizens’ sake, for the sake of the country and for further progress on the way towards the European Union; and my second concern is the possible impact of the appointment of non-consensual persons whose background might be questioned – concretely the new Speaker of the Assembly, with whom I met after his election in both of my functions as Vice-President of the European Parliament and Kosovo rapporteur of the Parliament. I raised my concern about the allegations against him as ex-leader of Shik at the meeting with him as well.

And I publicly regretted very much that the new government included only two women ministers out of twenty-one(!). I absolutely supported the request of the Assembly’s Women Caucus for gender balance in top positions in the Assembly, the commitees and the leadership of the groups. I admit, I cannot understand why the new leaders didn’t take more women – and there are plenty in the Assembly and elsewhere in Kosovo – into the cabinet. This would have been a strong signal that the new Kosovo government takes the citizens’ wish for a new boost pursueing the necessary reforms with commitment and determination seriously.

I underline the need for a reform agenda that meets the promises made. And I urge the new government to vigorously pursue a number of priority issues, including strengthening rule of law and the judiciary, tackling corruption and organised crime at all levels, fighting against unemployment, fostering structural economic reforms and sustainable development, so that especially young people have perspectives inside the country and decide to stay and work for improvement instead of – as some of them are doing recently – try to get asylum in the EU which, apart from having hardly any chance, also decreases the chances of visa liberalisation for Kosovo…

I have to admit that I was really shocked by the outcome of the Transparency International corruption perceptions index, released just a few weeks ago. According to this index, Kosovo ranked 110 out of 174 countries. This ranking, which was shared with Albania, Malawi, Ecuador and Ethiopia, affirmed Kosovo as one of the two polities in the region with the highest level of perceived corruption. In comparison, Serbia ranked 78, Montenegro 76, FYRoM 64 and Croatia 61.

For me it is really concerning for Kosovo to be perceived as one of the two most corrupt countries in the Balkan region. Even if perception might be worse than reality this index indicates that not enough progress has been achieved in fighting corruption over the past years – for me this – percepetion or reality – is a very significant obstacle to Kosovo’s democratic, social and economic development.

Criticizing corruption in Kosovo also requires a word about the recent allegations of corruption within EULEX. I strongly believe that EULEX has played and still plays an important role in Kosovo and thus I welcomed the prompt reaction to my demand for an independent investigation by the new EU High Representative Federica Mogherini to appoint an independent expert to probe into the handling of such allegations. I also called for full transparency of such investigation and it is of outmost importance for me to restore credibility of the EU in Kosovo and abroad, and to consider the lessons learned for future missions.

My call on EULEX is to perform its mandate with reinvigorated effort and demonstrate more concrete and high-level results. Kosovo authorities should support the exercise of EULEX’s executive mandate. I also call on the Kosovo government and the Kosovo Assembly to adopt the necessary legislative package in order to set up the Special Court, operating within the Kosovo justice system but with a chamber in the Netherlands – which has been accepted by the Dutch government. This will enable Kosovo to move from the past legacy.

My next Kosovo report in spring 2015 will, among other things, of course repeat the request to the five recalcitrant EU member states which have not yet recognised the state of Kosovo to accept Kosovo’s independence. Unfortunately this resolution (like many others in the field of Foreign Affairs) will not be binding for member states. And with only a few exceptions the 22 recognizers are leaning back, watching and waiting – rather than being active themselves in pushing for clarity and recognition. This is weakening our common efforts and the effect of the billions of Euros being spent.

The most annoying part of this “diplomatic stalemate” within the EU created by the five non-recognizers is that they do not refrain from recognizing because of concern for Serbs in Kosovo or for Serbia. They pretend to be concerned about violation of international law – and do not want to understand that the ICJ in 2010 has ruled that the declaration of independence was not a violation of international law.

In reality it is domestic political games and fear of ethnic minorities in their own countries demanding independence which keeps them from recognizing. But by not recognizing Kosovo the five implicitly compare their own governments’ acts towards ethnic minorities to Milosevic’ dictatorship. That is ridiculous, since in none of these countries any democratically elected government has ever ordered or implemented ethnic cleansing as Milosevic did against Kosovo Albanians.

My report will also makes clear that the EU must do more to give Kosovo a real accession perspective, such as through the long overdue roadmap for visa liberalisation. The Visa dialogue with Kosovo started in November 2011and was an important signal for normalisation and stabilisation. But to be honest and realistic: The former government has achieved a lot at technical level, but the EU Ministers of Interior have to give their consent for a visa liberalisation. And the recent upsurge in the number of citizens leaving Kosovo, including Roma, Ashkali, and Albanians, is sending a very bad signal: The more asylum seekers from Kosovo enter the EU, the more difficult visa liberalisation will become, even if Kosovo will have implemented all technical requirements. But I can guarantee that I, together with the big majority of Members of the European Parliament will continue to push for visa liberalisation and an end of the unacceptable isolation of Kosovo citizens.

Ulrike Lunacek is Vice President of the European Parliament and the EP’s Rapporteur for Kosovo. She leads the delegation of Austrian Greens in the Greens/EFA Group in the EP.

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