European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood
Address on Kosovo
Inter parliamentary meeting, European Parliament
Strasbourg, 14 March 2012
Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The General Affairs Council of 28 February marked the beginning of a new stage in the European Union's relationship with Kosovo. Its importance is difficult to overstate: for Kosovo, for the Western Balkans as a whole, and for the European Union itself.
As you know, the Council confirmed the Commission's intention to launch a feasibility study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo. This decision firmly anchors Kosovo in the EU's policy framework for the Western Balkans, and marks a crucial step towards the establishment of contractual relations with Kosovo.
The feasibility study will provide a comprehensive analysis of Kosovo's readiness – politically, economically, and legally - to negotiate and implement a Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Such agreements are the corner stone of the EU's policy towards the Western Balkans, and a stepping stone towards membership.
I look forward to formally launching the process at the first meeting of the newly created National Council for European Integration in Pristina on 27 March. This meeting will be an excellent opportunity to agree an EU-Kosovo Roadmap, and to confirm the actions that we will need to take to achieve our goals this year.
It will also be essential for the National Council to reflect, and be supported by, all sides of the political spectrum in Kosovo. Only with this level of support and engagement will Kosovo be able to make the significant reforms required to move towards Europe. I know this from my own experiences in the Czech Republic.
I look forward to marking this occasion with Prime Minister Thaçi, and would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to his courage and leadership. The proposal for a feasibility study would not have been possible without the agreement with Serbia on regional cooperation achieved in the context of the Belgrade/Pristina dialogue.
PM Thaçi took great risks in agreeing to this deal, but I am confident that his courage will pay off. Kosovo will be able to engage in regional cooperation in its own right, speaking for itself, making itself heard, participating without any go-between.
This is what it is all about: a place at the table where discussions take place and decisions are made. As PM Thaçi himself put it: integration instead of isolation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The launch of the feasibility study follows closely on the EU's already ambitious agenda for Kosovo, as confirmed by the December Council conclusions.
This year, we aim to make decisive progress on visas, trade and the participation of Kosovo in EU Programmes. We will also launch the structured dialogue on the rule of law, support Kosovo's bid for EBRD membership when it chooses to submit its application, and support Kosovo's inclusive and long-term plans for the north.
I am very pleased that Commissioner Malmström launched the visa dialogue in January. The roadmap is now being discussed with Member States, and will be presented to Kosovo once agreed. But it is important not to underestimate the sustained efforts that will be required to achieve our goals. Significant reforms are needed, particularly to tackle organised crime and corruption.
On trade, the sector meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Process Dialogue took place in February, and another such meeting will take place in April on the Internal Market. Both provide an excellent opportunity for Kosovo to see and understand the requirements of the trade mission that is to take place by May. Following this mission, we will take stock of Kosovo's progress - both in terms of legislation and implementation - and incorporate the findings in our study.
On EU Programmes, we are adjusting our proposal and will resume our discussions in the Council. I am optimistic that, with the help of the new formula agreed in the dialogue with Belgrade, we can make decisive progress in the course of the next few months.
With regard to EBRD membership, the newly agreed formula on Kosovo will give further assurances to non-recognising countries, and will thereby increase Kosovo's chances of membership. However, it will be crucial for Kosovo to make progress on key reforms, particularly related to the rule of law. In this context, I will be launching the Structured Dialogue on the Rule of Law later this spring in Brussels.
Finally, we also stand ready to support Kosovo's efforts to engage with the local community in the north. In particular, there is small-scale financial assistance available for projects that aim to nurture trust and promote mutual confidence. But it is essential that all political forces in Kosovo support this effort in an inclusive manner - the time is for communication, not for confrontation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me conclude by re-affirming the EU's commitment to offering Kosovo a European perspective. The last few weeks and months have shown that these are not just empty words, but that they are words backed up by concrete action.
The Commission is fully engaged with Kosovo. 2012 is our year of opportunity. Let's work together to turn this opportunity into reality.
Thank you very much.