By Ambassador Tomas Szunyog

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By Ambassador Tomas Szunyog

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Western Balkans and EU News
07.01.22 | Opinions

[Opinion] About the European future for Kosovo

"Kosovo can do better; people deserve better. The EU not only offers opportunities, it also stands ready to help Kosovo in making the most of them, in honest partnership and mutual respect. EU has been supporting Kosovo also financially. The EU is here to keep supporting Kosovo to seize all the opportunities; it all depends on Kosovo commitment." 

By Ambassador Tomas Szunyog 

Prishtina, 07 January 2022, - There is a very strong support for EU memberships in Kosovo; according to the latest poll, an overwhelming majority (93%) support accession. This figure makes me happy, proud and hopeful. It also gives me motivation to continue my most important work as the EU representative in Kosovo: to assist Kosovo to accelerate its path towards the EU.

 This past year has seen many challenges but also some positive developments. Kosovo held parliamentary and local elections: both were in general well administrated, transparent and competitive, despite several shortcomings. The general elections resulted in a strong Government with a stable majority in the Parliament and with an ambitious reform agenda. On top of it, the year has seen good economic growth. Kosovo’s economic rebound has exceeded projections. Kosovo has, as so many of us, battled the pandemic this year, but it is entering the next year with low transmission levels and comparatively high vaccination rates. Kosovo is starting the next year on a strong note, and there are reasons to be optimistic about the future.

 End of year is always the time for reflections and new resolutions. I would like that Kosovo reflects on how to build on what is already achieved, on challenges overcame, on promises made, on hopes created, and on opportunities provided.

I strongly believe it is time to improve the lives of the all the people in Kosovo: to transform anxiety about the future into excitement. Here is why.

 The Government is well suited to use the upcoming period of about three years without elections and any other foreseen political interruptions. It can take decisions on important matters, also utilising opportunities provided by the European Union.

 In October, the EU published annual Kosovo Report assessing how Kosovo is prepared to join the EU and setting out recommendations. It recognises a positive trend of renewed commitment to advance on EU-related reforms; it also makes it clear that there are no shortcuts on the way to the EU. Kosovo needs to implement concrete reforms.

 Kosovo adopted the European Reform Agenda II and the National Programme for the Implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. These documents, that seem very technical, in fact serve as a road map for reforms; it is a list of measures, decisions and legislative steps, which the Government committed to take. The more Kosovo implements them, the closer its standards are to those in the EU. It is important that Kosovo does not lose sight of their implementation: this is in the interest of the people and businesses.

 Kosovo is yet to utilize the EU Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. The opportunities are huge for its socio-economic development. The Plan mobilizes up to 9 billion EUR of grant funding under the Instrument of Pre-Accession Assistance to support development in important areas; e.g. transport, energy, environment, digital and green transition, private sector, youth, or health resilience. It is to boost recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and when used, can lead to growth, investments and jobs.

 Equal, constant and affordable access to clean energy is important for each household. The current unreliable and health-hazardous energy supply is concerning. Two highly polluting lignite power plants, severely affecting health and economic well-being, produce the bulk of power supply. Kosovo needs ambitious and credible long-term plan that focuses on renewables, energy efficiency, decarbonisation and the economic opportunities in this sector. EU stands ready to support also financially the transition to healthy and clean energy, as it has done so far.

 The Government has been rightly focusing on the rule of law and on the fight against corruption and organised crime. Now, that it adopted the Rule of Law Strategy, it is important to implement it. I also encourage Kosovo to step up efforts to strengthen the independence of judiciary, increase capacity and ensure the effective functioning of the law enforcement agencies, reduce backlog of cases, enforce assets declaration, and confiscation of criminal assets. Over the years, the EU has been supporting Kosovo in these areas, and will continue to do so to restore public trust in an independent justice system.

 Kosovo demonstrated its democratic maturity in general and local elections. EU Elections Observation Missions deployed over the years published recommendations on how to strengthen electoral process.

 It is time for Kosovo to launch the long overdue electoral reform process: a journey that requires political commitment. I am optimistic that the political parties, institutions, and civil society will genuinely engage and be part of the work.

 Public administration reform is a complex process that needs a strong political leadership. Kosovo deserves a professional and de-politicised civil service, as well as an effective, accountable, reliable and citizen-oriented administration. Here, the Government has taken some initiatives to set a new direction for reforms. I am looking forward for the adoption of the new strategy and for the implementation of pending laws. Over the years, the EU has invested significantly this area. New funding to improve the services is under way.

 As the Western Balkans have been and will continue to be a priority for the EU, we build closer relations with the region. To name few initiatives for the benefit of the people  and businesses: the regional agreement on voluntary reduction of roaming charges; the Action Plan for the implementation of the Green Agenda; the Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, and the creation of a Common Regional Market. I encourage Kosovo to play constructive role in regional cooperation activities.

 I am very much aware on the importance of the visa liberalization and understand the frustration about the fact that the people in Kosovo still need a visa to travel to the Schengen area. In that sense, the European Commission maintains the assessment it made in July 2018 that Kosovo has fulfilled all visa liberalisation benchmarks. This proposal is pending in the (EU) Council. Kosovo has an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with Member States to seek their support as well as be ready to address any concerns that some might still have.

 It is up to Kosovo to seize these opportunities so it can develop, grow and strive. For this to happen, it needs to put in place – both in law and in spirit - the economic policies, rule of law guarantees and standards necessary for attracting investment. What counts are concrete decisions, legislations adopted, measures implemented, and structures in place.

Kosovo can do better; people deserve better. The EU not only offers opportunities, it also stands ready to help Kosovo in making the most of them, in honest partnership and mutual respect. EU has been supporting Kosovo also financially. The EU is here to keep supporting Kosovo to seize all the opportunities; it all depends on Kosovo commitment.

 For EU accession process to move forward there is a need to deliver genuine and sustainable results on key issues: the rule of law, justice reform, fight against corruption and organised crime, security, fundamental rights, public administration reform, economic development and competitiveness. The process is long and complex, but the reward is all worth it: a stable, prosperous, democratic, and peaceful Kosovo.

 In that spirit, I wish you and your loved one a calm, healthy and happy end of the year, and I am looking forward to work together for a better future for Kosovo. There are real opportunities: reach out to them. The EU stands ready to help Kosovo to move closer to the EU. But we cannot do it without you: it is ultimately the choice and responsibility of Kosovo.

 (The author is Head of the EU Office in Kosovo/EU Special Representative)

07.01.22 | Opinions