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SPEECH/10/372

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Exchange of views on Albania and Kosovo

Plenary Session, European Parliament

Strasbourg, 7 July 2010

Honourable Members,

I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the European perspective of the Western Balkans.

The EU has played a major role in promoting stability, security, democracy and fundamental freedoms in the Western Balkans, which are now firmly anchored in the enlargement process.

And there are positive developments which we can build on today. Accession negotiations (with Croatia) have stepped up a gear and are now entering a crucial phase. Comprehensive Stabilisation and Association Agreements are being put in place and implemented across the region. And the political and economic reform process continues.

Reforms, however, must be consolidated. The democratic foundations in some of the countries remain fragile. Political leaders bear a huge responsibility, in this respect, to overcome differences, and steer their countries and the region towards better governance and away from the risk of destabilisation.

The two very well grounded and valuable draft resolutions on the agenda today confirm this trend and show that the European Parliament remains a key supporter of the stabilisation and association process with the Western Balkans, leading the region to eventual membership.

I wish to thank the European Parliament - and Mr. Chountis in particular - for the good and balanced report on Albania; and I welcome the opportunity to discuss Albania with you today, at this key moment for the country.

I fully share the EP's view regarding the political situation in Albania. The lack of constructive political dialogue and the lack of a settlement of disagreements following the June 2009 elections between government and opposition are of concern. Both sides need to return to constructive political dialogue and find a solution based on the respect for the Constitution and transparency. OSCE-ODIHR recommendations need to be fully addressed in view of the spring 2011 local elections.

The on-going political stalemate is hindering important reform steps, which are also necessary for the country's progress on the EU integration path.

I appreciate the constructive role of the two EP principals played in the mediation initiative for a solution to the stalemate and I welcome the EPs call for a cross-party consensus on key reforms.

On the positive side, as regards the visa dialogue, the country has made important progress. The Commission's proposal of 27 May for short-stay visa-free travel reflects it.

I fully agree with the view that more efforts are needed to ensure Albania's justice system can deliver in an efficient and timely manner.

Albania needs to rigorously implement legislation and action plans on anti-corruption and in relation to fighting organized crime and ensure sufficient investigative and judicial capacity.

The Commission has made IPA financial support in the area of the judiciary and law enforcement one of its main priorities, allocating some € 55 million in the period 2007-2010.

On the freedom and independence of media, more needs to be done: the legal framework needs to be completed. Transparency of media ownership shall be tackled. Intimidation and influence on journalists are of concern.

Further issues are the effective implementation of the public administration reform strategy and ensuring of an independent, professional and meritocratic civil service.

Also, more needs to be done to address domestic violence and trafficking of women and children.

Now, let me turn to Kosovo.

Kosovo remains a priority. I am particularly grateful to Ms Lunacek for the excellent work she has done on this Kosovo Resolution. Your support is crucial, especially now, on the eve of the issuing of the International Court of Justice's opinion.

EU Member States have different views on Kosovo's status. However, EU Member States are united in their engagement with Kosovo and so is the Commission. The discussions on Ms Lunacek's Resolution confirm that Europe's parliament is equally committed in its support to Kosovo's European perspective, as part of the region at large.

I visited Kosovo twice this year. My second visit also included the North and I had useful exchanges with the local community, opened the new EU Information Point, and visited the newly established EU House. I confirmed my assurances of the EU's continued support to the local community, and called for cooperation and dialogue.

We are making good progress on the proposals made in our Kosovo communication of last October. The Council invited us to support Kosovo's progress towards the EU in line with the European perspective of the region. The timing and scope of Kosovo's progress is determined by Kosovo itself.

We launched the Stabilisation and Association Process Dialogue with Kosovo in January. A full cycle of sector meetings has been completed.

We are also moving forward on visas. The Council agreed that Kosovo should progress with the perspective of eventual visa liberalisation, once all conditions are met. In this context, the Commission continues to work with the Kosovo authorities to ensure that all the requirements to launch a visa dialogue are met. Kosovo adopted a readmission law on 25 June.

The services of Commissioner Malmström are verifying its EU-compatibility as we speak. Kosovo still needs to ensure reintegration arrangements are adequate to cope with returnees in a satisfactory manner. We are in very close touch with Pristina to provide guidance and support.

We are also moving ahead on trade. The Commission adopted its proposal to extend the existing autonomous trade preferences for Kosovo until 2015 back in February. This ball is now in your court.

A comprehensive trade fact-finding mission is in Pristina again as we speak to assess the possibility for the EU and Kosovo to prepare for negotiations of a trade agreement. We see such an agreement as essential for fostering Kosovo's socio-economic development, which the draft resolution rightly highlights.

Finally, for the first time this year Kosovo will take part in IPA Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) programmes with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania. CBC with Montenegro will follow next year.

In conclusion, the year ahead will be an important phase for Albania, Kosovo and the region at large.

Concerning Kosovo, whatever the International Court of Justice will say, I trust the EU will continue to actively engage with Kosovo to ensure it stays connected to developments in the rest of the Western Balkans.

Concerning Albania, I hope that the political picture as well as pragmatic progress on the ground will allow us to establish a clear path ahead in the Opinion the Commission will present in the autumn.

In both cases, I am glad to be able to count on the joint support of the European Parliament and the Commission in fostering the countries' and the region's efforts.

Thank you.


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