PRISTINA – Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you very much for your invitation to be here with you today. I would like to talk to you about the Stabilisation and Association Agreement that the European Union signed with Kosovo on 27 October and that this Assembly ratified last Monday.
Kosovo can be justly proud of this important achievement, which involved a lot of hard work by dedicated people on both sides.
I believe the Agreement is of critical importance for the future of Kosovo. But, like all legislation that this House passes, a lot depends on how it will be implemented. The Agreement will be what Kosovo will make of it.
Mr Speaker, allow me to explain what the Stabilisation and Association Agreement is all about.
First and foremost, the Agreement is a contract that binds the European Union and Kosovo together in a relationship that not only involves rights and privileges, but also duties and obligations. Like all contracts, the Agreement describes what both parties have agreed to do together. So, what have the European Union and Kosovo agreed to do?
The European Union and Kosovo have agreed to establish an association. The aims of this association are political and economic, and also touch upon regional cooperation.
Politically, the Agreement aims to support Kosovo’s efforts to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and to contribute to Kosovo’s political and institutional stability. The Agreement provides for a framework for political dialogue and aims to support Kosovo’s efforts to develop its international cooperation. It provides for a solid framework for cooperation in the fight against organised crime and corruption. It should consolidate the rule of law and the administration of justice.
The Agreement also presents a framework for economic development and job creation. The Agreement will upgrade and expand trade relations between the EU and Kosovo by the gradual development of a free trade area. This should encourage the development of opportunities to do business, both for EU companies in Kosovo and for Kosovo companies in the EU. It will help Kosovo implement the necessary economic reforms, underpinned by the rule of law. This should increase the confidence of foreign and domestic investors in Kosovo by ensuring a more predictable business environment. All these should create an economic perspective for your people, especially the young and should lead to job creation. This will help you turn brain drain into brain circulation.
The Agreement should help establish a stable legal framework and the gradual approximation with EU laws and standards. More specifically, the Agreement promotes the free movement of goods, services and capital. It envisages higher standards of consumer protection in Kosovo that should lead to increased safety for Kosovo consumers. It should open up business to more competition, potentially contributing to lower prices and a bigger selection of goods and services for Kosovo citizens to choose from.
The Agreement should also stimulate Kosovo’s progress in the area of transport and energy infrastructure as it foresees the gradual integration into Europe’s energy markets and the development of quality infrastructure.
Allow me in this regard to refer to the importance we attach to the Connectivity Agenda, which is close to my heart. Investment in connectivity will not only result in improved infrastructure, but will also create jobs. One very concrete example is the planned rehabilitation of Kosovo Rail Route Project 10, which is part of the Western Balkans core railway network and part of a wider European Union agenda to promote transport connectivity in the region.
This brings me to regional cooperation. The Agreement should also strengthen regional cooperation. Under the terms of the Agreement, Kosovo commits itself to the visible and sustainable improvement in relations with Serbia. This is an essential principle of our Agreement. The continuation and positive and productive contribution of the EU-facilitated dialogue with Serbia is therefore a legal obligation. Kosovo will need to implement the agreements it has reached with Serbia, and continue to work towards further agreements. As we have seen recently, this sometimes involves taking difficult decisions and requires the courage to compromise and defend that compromise.
Over the last four years Kosovo has demonstrated that it is up to this challenge and that it understands that the dialogue is in the interests of Kosovo and its citizens. With our Agreement, Kosovo’s dialogue with Serbia has become an integral part of Kosovo’s progress towards Europe. I appeal to all in Kosovo to consider the dialogue not as an obstacle but as an opportunity to advance Kosovo’s European agenda and promote its regional integration. Kosovo has much if not everything to gain from the dialogue. And it has an awful lot to lose without the dialogue.
The Agreement also includes provisions that commit Kosovo to high international standards in terms of respect for democratic principles. I don’t need to tell you that this is of particular relevance to the challenges Kosovo is facing at the moment. It means that there should be respect for the institutions set up to ensure democratic government and that there should be respect for the rules of procedure that allow these institutions to do their work. It also means there should be no obstruction to free and transparent political discourse. Obstruction and violence have no place in a democratic system.
Those who obstruct the free exchange of views have lost the argument before the debate has even started.
Respect for democratic principles means that a democratically elected government can submit its proposals to you, the elected representatives of the people. It means that the elected representatives have the opportunity to debate these proposals openly and subject them to democratic scrutiny, without obstruction, in the place that has been assigned for this very purpose, this House. It means that the elected representatives of the people can freely express their views and vote on these proposals. And it means that elected representatives can defend their assessment and decisions to those who gave them their mandate, the Kosovo citizens.
Respect for democratic principles also means that this Assembly can and must play its full part in ensuring checks and balances over the actions of state institutions, including the government – but through democratic means.
Let me also take this opportunity to tell this House what the Stabilisation and Association Agreement will not do. It will not mean more financial assistance for Kosovo. Kosovo’s allocation under our Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance will not increase. However, IPA will be mobilised to help Kosovo implement the Agreement and make the best use of it. And rest assured that the EU will continue to maintain its high levels of funding to assist you in modernising your administration, improving connectivity and enhancing education and employment prospects.
The Agreement also does not relate to visas. I know that visa free travel is a top political priority for Kosovo, but our Agreement does not touch on this. We are however currently assessing Kosovo’s progress on visas, and you will recall that my colleague Dimitris Avramopoulos confirmed earlier that Kosovo was ‘walking the last mile’ towards visa free status.
Our preliminary assessment is that Kosovo has made substantial progress on visas, and this includes the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro. I am hopeful that remaining challenges can be addressed quickly and effectively. We will assess this progress fairly and should issue our findings before the end of this year.
Let me conclude by confirming that the Stabilisation and Association Agreement is a key step on Kosovo’s road to Europe. The next challenge is its implementation. Implementation concerns all in Kosovo; not only the government, this Assembly and Kosovo’s public administration, but also the Kosovo business community, civil society and Kosovo society at large. It is a joint effort. The Agreement will need time to kick in. It is not a magic cure that will show results immediately. It needs to be implemented in the manner and at the pace that we agreed. We will monitor this very carefully.
Finally, the Agreement cannot fix Kosovo’s internal political problems; these are to be solved by you, Kosovo’s democratically elected politicians, within the framework of your rules and procedures. Of course we will continue to stand ready and support Kosovo in its efforts to get out of its current difficulties, but we cannot take the necessary decisions or otherwise force a solution.
Allow me to conclude by thanking you once again for this opportunity, and by congratulating Prime Minister Mustafa, his government, yourselves Honourable Members, and the people of Kosovo on the tremendous achievement that is our Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Together with you I look forward to its entry into force next year.
Thank you very much.