EWB Interview with Hashim Thaçi, President of Kosovo. The interview comes at the time of widespread discussion about the agreement on comprehensive normalization of relations, and the possibility of territorial exchanges as a part of the solution. EWB asked Thaçi about the possibilities of the final agreement and the Euro-Atlantic future of Kosovo.

European Western Balkans: How do you see the future of European integration of Kosovo? There are many who think that Kosovo is “stuck” in the EU accession process, but that might change with the normalization of relations with Serbia. What is your opinion about this?

Hashim Thaçi: Kosovo is now implementing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, which is part of the accession process. There is a long list of reforms that we need to both adopt and implement. The Government and all institutions are working intensively to ensure credible and sustainable progress. But more needs to be done.

As for the future of the EU accession, all of the Western Balkan countries have the path open but none of us will be able to join the EU family before we resolve the open bilateral issues and that would include demarcation of borders with each other. This has been made abundantly clear in various forums. For Kosovo, it means we must continue with dialogue and the reconciliation process.

EWB: Apart from the dialogue with Serbia, what do you think are the main obstacles for Kosovo’s EU accession path and being granted visa liberalization?

HT: The EU accession path is a distinct and complex process. But as long as reforms are being implemented and we solve outstanding bilateral issues the road to accession will be open and we’ll conclude it successfully.

Visa liberalization is separate. There, Kosovo has fulfilled all conditions. We had more conditions than anyone else in the Western Balkans. We had more complex conditions like border demarcation with Montenegro and far more rigorous documentation of the fight against organized crime.

This process was not fair. Countries from Colombia to Ukraine and Moldova, let alone our neighbors in the Balkans, already enjoy visa liberalization with the Schengen zone, but life and politics as well as the EU integration process in not always fair.

We were patient and we delivered. The European Commission confirmed we have delivered and now we expect the European Parliament and members states to recognize Kosovo’s immense progress and dedication. This process will take weeks and months, not years.

EWB: Now about the dialogue. You have mentioned on several occasions the possibility of “territorial corrections” between Serbia and Kosovo, but denied the possibility of partition of Kosovo. What are “territorial corrections” if not the division of Kosovo or at least the exchange of territory?

HT: Kosovo must close the chapter of conflict with Serbia in a permanent and sustainable formula. Our republic is a fact in international relations. It has been recognized by 116 UN members states and it’s an equal member in many international multilateral forums, from IMF and World Bank to Venice Commission or Berlin process.

Yet, membership to EU and NATO, which is a desire of 92% of the population of Kosovo, is elusive until we settle open bilateral issues. Kosovo with Serbia has many issues, from the legacy of war, like the missing and war reparations, to more contemporary issues. Some of these issues were being tackled in dialogue in Brussels but time has come for the final and legally binding settlement.

I’m against ethnic borders. But I’m also not naïve. I know that Serbia prefers to drag their feet on the inevitable recognition of Kosovo. They would like to maintain status-quo, but this limbo is not possible to maintain anymore.

So, we have to define this bilateral relationship, we have to define the 400km long border between two republics and we have to end with Kosovo in UN. This is why our Western partners are open to creative and progressive solutions, so we can reach this aim. I’m ready to discuss solutions with anyone to guarantee Kosovo’s cemented place and perspective as a member of Euro-Atlantic family of nations.

EWB: Would the territorial corrections be a part of the agreement on comprehensive normalization of relations? What else do you think needs to be resolved within this agreement? Recognition of Kosovo, property, cultural heritage?

HT: The process has not advanced so far that we are speaking about concrete solutions. Fact remains, citizens of what people in Prishtina refer to Eastern Kosovo, or southern municipalities in Serbia, Presheva (Preševo), Bujanovac, Medvegja (Medveđa), have expressed desire to join Kosovo already in 1992 in a referendum. So, including this topic in dialogue may also solve another point of potential conflict. But we are far from any agreement. I expect heavy involvement of DC, Brussels, Berlin, Paris – all Quint countries – to come to a mutually acceptable solution that will also bring mutual recognition.

EWB: Would the new agreement on territorial corrections replace certain agreements within the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, primarily the creation of Association of Serb Majority municipalities, or they will nevertheless be implemented in full?

HT: Kosovo has been dedicated to implement the agreements from Brussels. There is a certain propagandistic claim from Belgrade that we’re delaying the creation of association, but that’s nonsense.

Delays have come from Belgrade. Several times we have waited for months for experts from Serbian community to work on a statute of association that is based on present constitution of Kosovo, as agreed in Brussels, without any ambiguity and without any attempt to create some sort of new executive branch of government.

Association has been also allowed by Ahtisaari Plan and our own constitution and as President of the Republic, I will respect all constitutional formulas to strengthen decentralization of power closer to people and communities.

EWB: Do you believe that the US, the EU and its member states would accept any agreement reached between Kosovo and Serbia? Or they have some preferences of their own?

HT: I think US, EU and member states will accept agreements that are in line with EU values and international law. Kosovo’s independence is a settled issue in the international law. Even President of Serbia is saying so, when he refers to the decision of the International Court of Justice. There are no ways that Serbia can ever again in any forum dispute the legality of Kosovo’s independence.

So now we have to move towards accepting that reality and creating, what I call, a political architecture of peace in this part of Balkans. Macedonia joining NATO is an important, I would say fundamental factor, in this architecture of peace. The final legal settlement between Kosovo and Serbia would be other fundamental contributor of resolving the future of Balkans in a way that ensures peace for next generations. No one from international community will be against such a positive development.

EWB: Do you believe you will have the required support in Kosovo for the agreement in Serbia? Judging by the problems with ratification of the border agreement in Montenegro, the opposition will hardly accept any concessions.

HT: Peace is not easy. I spoke in recent years with many peacemakers and mediators, from Norway and US, to Colombia to Israel – not everyone in our societies share the vision of how to achieve peace. Many positions are entrenched and some resistance has to do with actors not process.

I understand some in Kosovo opposition dislike the fact I’m leading this process, but constitution of Kosovo and my own conscience tell me that we have to engage seriously in improving the future of our children and ensuring their security. Status quo is not a recipe for security. It’s a recipe for inevitable disaster. Yet, I have faced dialogue in far more difficult circumstances of life and death, like in Rambouillet castle in 1999. We also dealt with Ahtisaari process that brought the coordinated declaration of independence with Western allies.

So, I have strong belief that all actors in political establishment, whether in government or opposition in Kosovo, will unite to close the painful chapter and open the new one, of Kosovo becoming a member in UN, EU, NATO. We may not have a universal consensus, but I’ve seen polls, and vast majority of people of Kosovo want to close the dialogue with Serbia and move on. In the end, dialogue is also about economy and jobs. None will improve without political stability and us being anchored to the Brussels.