“Kosovo Wants to Contribute to Europe”

President Atifete Jahjaga describes how Kosovo is moving closer to the EU and her country’s dialogue with Serbia

24/10/2013 | 18:30 - 20:00 | DGAP Rauchstr. 17 Berlin 10787 Berlin | Invitation only

Speech

Category: Kosovo, Enlargement Process

President Jahjaga emphasized Kosovo’s desire to join the EU: “Our identity is European.” Indeed, the membership route is the only feasible option for the young country’s future development. To this end, Kosovars are in the midst of extensive reform efforts. In her speech at the DGAP, and in discussion with Paul Freiherr von Maltzahn and guests, Jahjaga urged the EU to loosen its visa policy. She also called on Serbia to buttress the dialogue it began with Kosovo in 2011 with concrete action.

© DGAP / Dirk Enters

Atifete Jahjaga

Responding to a question from a Greek audience member about what attractiveness the European Union could possibly still have for Kosovo, Jahjaga countered without hesitation: Do you see any alternatives? – There are none. Integration with the EU is of the greatest importance for the young county. It is the driving force for building up institutions and the state. “The EU agenda is the only political project that universally meets with approval across the country – in all segments of the population,” said the president. “We are Europeans. Our identity is European.” Kosovars share the EU’s values. “The European path for Kosovo is irreversible.”

To join the community, she said, the citizens of Kosovo are prepared to go to great lengths and to build up a political system firmly based on democracy and the rule of law. The EU is Kosovo’s most important partner as it undertakes such comprehensive reforms. Collaboration with the European Mission for the Rule of Law (EULEX) continues, with productive results. In return, Kosovo wants to contribute something to the community through its membership – and can provide genuine added value.

The EU is Kosovo’s most important point of reference

Jahjaga has no doubt about the determination of her countrymen to carry reform policies forward and ultimately achieve a successful EU accession process. The shadows cast by the recent past are still too powerful for them to turn back; the determination to improve their own circumstances through European integration is too great. “One day we will be a part of the EU. Then it will be no longer necessary for our citizens to go to other countries in order to flee violence and poverty.” [[speech: “the flight of our citizens from Kosovo in search for better life.” ]] By starting negotiations with the EU over a Stabilization and Association Agreement, the foundations for Kosovo’s future membership in the EU are being laid. Jahjaga expressly called on the EU to pursue an open door policy and said that she hoped Brussels would propose concrete plans for quickly loosening visa restrictions.

Jahjaga did not hesitate to address the problems that have hindered the state’s development since its establishment in 2008. The youngest state in Europe still faces many challenges, above all widespread corruption and organized crime.

When asked about economic development, Jahjaga indicated that, as with political reform, the desired goals have yet to be reached – but important steps can nonetheless be chalked up. Solid legal frameworks are already in place for investors, for example, and are guaranteed in the constitutiond.

One asset very much worth leveraging is Kosovo’s young and relatively well-educated population. Demographically, 60 percent of Kosovars are under the age of 25. Considering the much higher average age in the rest of the EU, its member countries would do well to keep this human capital in mind.

As Jahjaga point out, the countries of the Balkans will of course continue to see their paths to the EU barred unless they set aside regional, cross-border tensions. “Good neighborly relations are the first step toward entering the [European] community.”

A dialogue with Serbia remains strained

Kosovo’s thorniest foreign policy issue is its relation with its neighbor, Serbia. In the two decades since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the struggle with Belgrade over the status of the former Serbian province has still not been resolved.

Considering this generally extremely difficult regional environment, the dialogue launched in the spring of 2011 – geared toward improving relations between Belgrade and Pristina – must be considered the most substantial success to date. Moreover, it offers the only possibility of overcoming differences and mutual distrust on both sides. The talks have led in turn to the agreement of April 19, 2013, in which both sides declared their willingness to cooperate.

Dialogue and treaties must now be reinforced with concrete action; the agreements must be implemented. Here Jahjaga expects more from the Serbian side. Her goal is a partnership based on mutual respect. In the end, a “legally binding agreement” must come into being in which both states offer each other mutual recognition.

Ethnic coexistence in the north

When asked about the fragile peace between Kosovars and ethnic Serbs in the north of the country, Jahjaga responded with confidence and determination that the communal elections scheduled to take place on November 3 would help the north return to normality. She is counting on the citizens to recognize the opportunities that the elections represent. In 2009 the ethnic Serb population in the north boycotted the elections and conducted parallel elections. The fact that citizens will now be going to the polls and participating in the political process is an important step in winning trust for Kosovo’s state institutions.

Jahjaga was adamant in arguing against the policy Serbia has thus far practiced with regard to northern Kosovo, above all its practice of supporting parallel structures. She refuses to tolerate any kind of interference. “Serbia must abandon the idea of an ethnically divided Kosovo. Kosovo’s citizens alone have the right to determine Kosovo’s future,” she said. Here she expressly included members of the Serbian minority, who like all other citizens of the state are just as much a part of Kosovo and have the same rights as its other nationals. Jahjaga’s country is ready for this cultural co-existence, she stated, while at the same time insisting on its territorial integrity.

Atifete Jahjaga, president of the Republic of Kosovo, was invited to the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) on October 24, 2013 to give a speech and participate in a discussion. Paul Freiherr von Maltzahn, the DGAP’s general secretary, moderated the discussion.

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