Ulrike Lunacek, Member of the European Parliament, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
February 17th, 2017
Some days after Kosovo’s 9th anniversary of the declaration of its independence European Parliament’s Vice-President and standing rapporteur for relations with Kosovo MEP Ulrike Lunacek (Greens/EFA, AT) states:
After the finalisation of the EU-Kosovo Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) last year and only few steps to go on the way to visa liberalisation there are good reasons to celebrate this year’s Independence Day. But especially the Independence Day in Kosovo should also be used to regularly commemorate Ibrahim Rugova, the Sakharov Prize laureate from 1998, who died just 11 years ago. He is still the symbol of Kosovo independence, and – most important for today’s politics in the country – a symbol of nonviolent struggle, a great poet and leader of Kosovo-Albanians into a European future. Therefore I encourage all political parties to continue their work for Kosovo after 9 years of independence in a constructive behaviour and European spirit and remind them of the good Kosovo tradition of civilian disobedience without any form of violence.
President Rugova told the citizens of Kosovo very clearly: „My vision is that our country should be integrated in the EU, to transfer a part of our independence there. It is also our duty to do it, if we want to establish trade and a sound economy. This is the vision that I am working on and I will continue to work in the future.“
In this sense for me the Kosovo perspective is clear: reconciliation in the region and integration into the EU. The Western Balkan states are European countries, they are surrounded by EU member states. Reconciliation and EU enlargement remains in the interest of both the European Union and the accession countries. My and the goal of the European Union is to have all Western Balkans countries join.
In this sense the recent implementation of the dialogue-agreement for a Kosovo telephone code was a step forward to good neighbourly relations and normalisation between the republics of Kosovo and Serbia.
Normalisation, however, means that everything agreed must be implemented, no exceptions. Both sides have to do that, and not wait for the other one to go first. The Serbian government knows – even if its members try to ignore this fact – that the EU will not, after Cyprus, accept any other member state whose borders are not clearly defined. So I am optimistic that the dialogue process will bring Serbia to normalize its relations with Kosovo – and that in the end means to recognize. The other good news during the last year have come from UEFA, with Kosovo becoming the 55th member of European football’s governing body. This was another important step to end the isolation of Kosovo athletes, artists and citizens. It is also a boost for the full international recognition of Kosovo statehood and hopefully soon full inclusion in all UN bodies.
And after the above mentioned finalisation of the EU-Kosovo Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in the beginning of 2016 and only few steps to go on the way to visa liberalisation I am encouraging all political parties in Kosovo to continue their work for Kosovo in a constructive manner and European spirit and remind them of the good Kosovo tradition of civilian disobedience without any form of violence. Because in Kosovo progress inside the country as well as towards the EU has been harmed by violent protests last year. To be very honest, I was shocked by such violent behaviour and I strongly condemned these attacks, even more so as some of them took place inside the Assembly. I also deeply regret that the image of Kosovo abroad has been further harmed by such incidents. Violence will not convince Ministers of the Interior in times of the biggest refugee/political/solidarity crisis the EU is facing that visa liberalisation for Kosovars is a good thing. Therefore my message to Kosovo politicians is without ambiguity: better get your act together and unite in lobbying Ministers of the Interior, deputies and media in EU capitals – there I see an important role for example for the EU Integration and Foreign Affairs Committees of the Kosovo Assembly.
It is high time for Kosovo citizens to be able to enjoy the freedom to visit friends and family in the EU for three months. As everyone knows, Kosovo is the only country in the Western Balkans whose citizens are not allowed to travel freely in the EU for three months. This anomalous situation has to change quickly in order to make citizens not feel „locked-in“ anymore.
Visa liberalisation is not a right in itself, it is merit based. The government and the Assembly in Pristina have fulfilled almost all of the requested benchmarks. The green light from the Commission for visa liberalisation as soon as the two remaining benchmarks are fulfilled was very good news last year. Now the ball is in the hands of the Kosovo parliament and government. The current stalemate has to be ended. The two remaining benchmarks can and must be fulfilled by Kosovo soon: ratification of the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro is a must. And of course, the Kosovo government has to deliver on the second benchmark: further progress on the track record of high level convictions for corruption and organized crime must be visible. Corruption is still widespread – as is the case in other countries in the region. Therefore the fight against corruption is already a conditio sine qua non. All my Kosovo reports call on the government in Pristina to take concrete steps to more effectively fight corruption and organized crime at all levels, including in its own ranks.
When that is done the ball will again be in the hands of the EU: Then Ministers of Interior of the EU Member States and the European Parliament (EP) will have to stick to our promises. I am optimistic, and – as in the past – the EP is the strongest supporter of Kosovo among the EU institutions. As Standing Rapporteur I am offering my full support and I will do all that is in my power to further support Kosovo on that path.
For me the three biggest and most urgent problems Kosovo has to deal with are:
1. Fight against corruption and organized crime as mentioned above – for instance, job appointments, especially in administration, have to be merit based; and tenders have to be done transparently.
2. Economically speaking, investment is low, infrastructure and public services (f.ex. education, health) have to improve rapidly. More jobs need to be created for youth and women – women’s unemployment is one of the highest in the region! Kosovo needs all the talents of all of its citizens, women and men alike. More social and economic empowerment is desperately needed for women in all fields, be it in education, in career promotion, in the struggle against the „glass ceiling“, in improving and increasing child care facilities, or in the fight against (domestic) and sexualised violence, or lack of inheritance rights. As Ex-President Atifete Jahjage said in her remarkable speech at the „Women in Parliaments“ Global Forum in Amman on May 5th 2016, which I also attended: ‚Women yet need to challenge the patriarchal mentality and traditions that limit their full participation at all levels of society’. And I would add: We need men who support women in those struggles!
And 3. Kosovars have to take responsibility for what is happening in Kosovo, problems must not be blamed anymore on „Serbia“, „the EU“, „the internationals“, „EULEX“ or who ever else. Kosovar citizens and insitutions have to take more responsibility for their own actions and future.
But of course also the EU has to deliver. The EP and I myself have been urging again and again the five reluctant EU member states to give up their resistance and to recognise Kosovo. The EU’s positive influence in Kosovo would be much stronger with all EU Member States acting united. My upcoming Kosovo report will, among other things, of course repeat the request to the five recalcitrant and urge them to finally accept the existence of the republic and recognize Kosovo without delay. 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 (like the UK which, however, is preparing to leave the Union) the 23 recognizers are leaning back, watching and waiting – rather than being active themselves in pushing for recognition. This is weakening our common efforts and the effect of the billions of Euros spent.
If these and other problems I have mentioned are seriously tackled by all EU member states and if Kosovars of whichever ethnic background take up responsibility for their state, I am sure, then Kosovo will make big progress on its path towards the EU.
Kosovars have shown in the past that courage is not alien to them – living, teaching, working underground for a decade takes audacious and strong human beings. Fighting a war of independence requires resolute and daring people.
So remember the courage you had in the years of struggling for independence and use it in a peaceful way to make your country one where fear, bribes and corruption do not rule neither the courts nor private or public life, where ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability or a differing political opinion do not prevent people to participate and have careers in parties, administration, the media, companies, schools, universities, health institutions etc.
And for sure my and the goal of the European Union is to have all Western Balkans countries join in, in 10 years hopefully also Kosovo being close to finishing the acquis.