Toepraak van minister Reynders ter gelegenheid van de conferentie 'Kosovo and the EU: how to realize together the “European perspective”?'
Pristina, April 10th 2013
American University in Kosovo
“Kosovo and the EU: how to realize together the “European perspective”?
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and European Affairs of Belgium
(check against delivery)
Dear Interim President Shaun Byrnes,
I am delighted to be in Pristina today, for my first time, and to have the chance to share with you my views on how the EU and its member states can bring life, together with you, to the European perspective and on the enlargement strategy of the European Union more in general. Next year, in Belgium and so many other countries of Europe, we shall commemorate the beginning of the first World War in 1914. Uncountable ceremonies and activities will be held on the former battlefields (Belgium counts alas too many of them) to remember the sufferings of our forebears in their combat for liberty and peace and to show to the younger generations the horrors of war and the benefits of peace. Being here today, in the Balkans, where it all began with one gun shot in Sarajevo on June 28th,1914, I cannot but hope that 100 years after that tragedy important new steps towards the integration of Europe can be accomplished, not just for you, but for all the countries of the Balkans that have their ultimate future in the European Union.
I am especially happy to be able to talk to an audience of young people that will form the dynamic core of the Kosovo society in a few years’ time. When we talk about a perspective, it is about the future, and that future is yours. What is happening now in your country and in the region of the Balkans at large is of the utmost importance for you and your own future. So I thank you very much for your interest in this subject and I hope we can spend an interesting moment of exchange together.
Only 5 years after the end of the Second World War, in a context of uncertainty and disarray, the six founding states made the courageous choice, on a proposal of Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman, to lay the basis of what has now become the European Union, based on shared values such as peace, freedom, solidarity or the rule of law.
From 1973 until 2007, the European Union membership has been enlarged six times. The last enlargement waves have significantly contributed to the reinforcement of democracy, the rule of law and of security in most parts of Europe. These enlargements also have made possible to strengthen the EU in order to address global challenges like climate change, competition or energy security. Moreover, the 27 and soon 28 member states work together to solve common issues and defend common positions.
The level of integration reached by the European Union is without comparison in the world: today candidates must adopt over 130.000 – 140.000 pages of legislation before joining. In the past months, the level of e.g. the economic integration, in particular in the euro zone, has been considerably deepened again and this movement will go on in the foreseeable future.
Today, around 500 million people live in our prosperous and stable Union. The Member states reconfirmed ten years ago, during the second EU-Western Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki, the European perspective of the Western Balkans countries which was already announced at the first ever meeting in Zagreb in 2000. This reconfirmation meant a clear choice to spread further the European objectives of prosperity, peace and stability.
For Belgium, the future of the Balkan countries and of Kosovo lie within the European Union; we all stand ready to help these countries to move closer to the EU.
Belgium supported Kosovo’s independence from the very beginning in February 2008. Not only within the EU institutions but also in multilateral fora such as the IMF, the World Bank or the BERD, Belgium has defended the interests of Europe’s youngest nation and its integration as a responsible and constructive member of the concert of nations.
Belgium was one of the first EU Member States which offered the young independent republic of Kosovo assistance through the organization of a training session on EU policy for Kosovar diplomats and civil servants in September 2009. This training session, which took place in Brussels, gave the young diplomats and civil servants the opportunity to discuss many themes of interest, such as law enforcement and internal security, public diplomacy, consular assistance, visa policy and migration management. The young trainees had also the opportunity to meet with officials of the European Commission and to visit the European Parliament. This training session turned out to be a great success and was repeated in October 2012 for another group of ten young diplomats.
In addition, Belgian experts also delivered assistance to Kosovo through the TAIEX-instrument of the European Commission. The Federal Police participated two times in 2011 in TAIEX expert missions on arms legislation. In 2011 and 2012, Belgian experts took part in a workshop in Pristina on the prevention, control and diagnostics of diseases in the bee population and in a seminar on combating terrorism. Further, the Belgian health authorities organized in November 2012, together with DG SANCO of the Commission, a study visit in Belgium for officials from the Ministry of Health of Kosovo.
The realization of this European future and the pace of the accession lie nevertheless to a large extent in your hands. I don’t want to underestimate the difficult reforms ahead, nor the political patience necessary to explain to your citizens that the path will be long and that it will require numerous and sometimes painful reforms. But after these demanding efforts, they will in the end take benefit from it. Your political leaders have a historic role to play and therefore a historic opportunity to deliver on the promises of European integration made to your people: by not creating unrealistic expectations and by demonstrating the political maturity expected from countries with the ambition of joining the EU. The end of supervised independence last September meant that Kosovo is now taking full and accountable responsibility for the future of its citizens and institutions, including a fair and secured treatment of its minorities.
In that regard and in the context and the spirit of the credibility of a process based on clear understandings, I would like to stress our mutual responsibility:
- The member states and the Commission must continue to make sure that each accession application is judged step by step and handled upon its own merits, rewarding genuine progress of a candidate country on its path towards the EU, without artificial timeframes nor interference of bilateral issues outside EU obligations. Indeed, we attach great importance not to “import” major bilateral issues within the EU; on the contrary, full attention must be given to the reinforcement of good neighbourly relations.
- Any applicant can only join the EU once it will be fully prepared to bear the responsibilities of membership. On the side of applicant countries, this supposes the awareness that the path will be long and will require numerous and sometimes difficult reforms and fostering a climate allowing for regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations.
The rule of law is at the centre of our preoccupations and for that reason the Commission has proposed to reschedule the succession of negotiating chapters: we now start the accession negotiations by opening difficult and essential chapters related to the rule of law, fundamental rights, freedoms and judiciary and we close them only at the end of the whole process in order to give more time to begin with these reforms.
We shall be able to deliver together on the promise to our citizens - reunification of the Western Balkans with the European family, in a common space of peace and prosperity – if only through our mutual efforts in supporting the credibility of the enlargement process
2012 has seen major progress by a number of countries of the Western Balkans on their road towards the European Union: Croatia will very soon become the 28th member state; accession negotiations have been opened with Montenegro; Serbia has been declared a candidate country.
For Kosovo as well, the developments are becoming more and more tangible: the visa liberalisation dialogue started in January 2012 and the related roadmap, a structured dialogue on the rule of law, was launched in Brussels last May; the feasibility study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Kosovo was presented by the Commission in October 2012, as well as the confirmation by the Commission of its readiness to negotiate a framework agreement for Kosovo’s participation in EU programs.
In 2013, it is crucial that the momentum for enlargement is maintained by adopting and implementing with vigour the necessary reforms. The Council conclusions on enlargement of last December have set an ambitious programme for the first half of 2013. Next week, the Commission will present reports on Albania, the Former Republic Yugoslav of Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo. We expect the candidate countries to meet the expectations and to deliver on the necessary conditions, so that we can go ahead with the opening of the accession negotiations with Serbia and with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. I also hope we will be able to approve a negotiating mandate to start negotiations with Kosovo on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
For the sake of completeness, I also briefly mention the other ongoing enlargement processes: the negotiations with Iceland are on the right track: we expect that after the elections, the new government will continue to show the same willingness of joining the EU.
On Turkey, after three years of stagnation in the negotiation process, Belgium hopes that a new negotiating chapter could be opened soon and that this could forebode a more general revival of the pace of negotiations.
For Montenegro, in accordance with the new approach adopted for the next accession negotiations, we emphasize the importance to open the chapters 23 (on a.o. fundamental rights) and 24 (on justice, freedom and security) at the beginning of the process in order to give this candidate more time to prepare the necessary reforms.
For Albania, the granting of candidate status is subjected to the completion of key measures in the areas of judicial and public administration reform and revision of the parliamentary rules of procedure. Additional actions undertaken by the Albanian authorities to fight corruption and organised crime as well the conduct of the election on June 23rd will be also taken into account.
Finally, Bosnia and Herzegovina should bring its Constitution into compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights before the entry into force of Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The “ball is in its court” and we encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to enhance its efforts in that way.
What do we expect exactly from Kosovo in order to move closer towards the EU?
1. To meet the four short term priorities - concerning the rule of law; public administration, protection of minorities and trade - , which are identified in the Feasibility study.
2. To continue to implement in good faith all agreements reached with Belgrade in the framework of the Dialogue which was facilitated by our High Representative, Lady Ashton. A tangible and sustainable improvement in relations between Kosovo and Serbia is needed and should gradually result “at the end of the day” as people say, in the normalisation of these relations. The government of Kosovo will have to give sufficient ‘room’ or local autonomy to the Serb communities, mainly in the North of Kosovo, according to the best standards of human rights and the rule of law. On the other hand, the Serb government will have to accommodate with a situation where a considerable number of persons of Serb descent live from now on in another state, but where they enjoy the highest standards of protection and have meaningful tools to organize their own lives according to their own traditions. This is exactly the same message I gave yesterday during my interesting talks in Serbia. I am very grateful for all the patient and valuable work Cathy Ashton has undertaken in this respect. It was alas not possible to reach an agreement between the parties in the last round of negotiations on April 2nd but I trust that a breakthrough is still possible in the coming days. May be the moment has now come for the EU to put forward some elements of a solution on the more delicate elements, such as on police issues or security? Hence probably a more complex compromise is needed, in which each side can find itself? There is now a momentum which must be used. For it is in the interest of both parties – Serbia and Kosovo – to realize a breakthrough now.
I really hope that the Commission will have at its disposal enough elements in order to present a positive report next week, which should enable the Council to decide on the opening of the negotiations of the Association and Stabilisation Agreement.
Let me seize this opportunity to say a few words on visa liberalisation. It is related to the European perspective, but it is a different process from that of enlargement or of the association agreement. I understand that visa liberalization is a very important issue for your country because it makes the European perspective more tangible for the citizens. The Government has therefore an obligation and a duty towards its citizens to effectively fulfil the criteria defined in the roadmap. In that respect I recall that the visa liberalization process is essentially a technical and merit-based process. Consequently, I underline the importance of a full and rigorous implementation of all the conditions and a clear communication towards the population on the scope and the limits of this decision, in order to avoid any misunderstandings. All of this, trust me, is not because Kosovo citizens would be considered as second rate citizens, neither because of double-standards, but because we consider Kosovo as a future and “fully fledged” member of the European Union with rights ànd duties vis-à-vis its European partners.
Finally, and coming back for a moment on the issue of the rule of law, I want to express my entire support for the difficult and sometimes delicate mission of EULEX Kosovo, the EU’s mission created in 2008 in order to assist Kosovo in the rule of law area. In confronting unacceptable practices of corruption, dealing with war crimes, strengthening the judicial structures of the country, this mission plays a key role in assisting Kosovo in reaching to the EU standards. Full cooperation with the Mission is a key element to demonstrate the will of Kosovo authorities to integrate the European dimension. Eulex should be respected and be supported wherever possible, and in the best possible cooperation with other international actors such as KFOR. Belgium for its part plays a small but concrete role in this process by hosting in Brussels the EULEX Special Investigative Task Force. This task force of EULEX is examining more in detail claims on alleged war crimes and trafficking in human organs that were made in a report by the Council of Europe.
To conclude, I should like to emphasize that we strongly encourage the government and all public and private actors to focus without any delay on what is essential for the future prosperity and stability of your country:
- full and efficient implementation of the legislation and requirements related to the European process;
- boosting socio-economic development for all;
- guaranteeing against all odds the rule of law and security for each and every citizens at all time.
What the country needs now is a clear vision for the future, and a large democratic consensus to move on. Not just to “tick boxes” on your EU path, neither to please the international community. But rather in the general interest of current and future Europeans and to provide a decent life to all the citizens of the Republic of Kosovo.
As the future generation, dear students, you will play a very important role in this transformation.
You can rely on Belgium’s unwavering support in this great and historic adventure.
I thank you for your attention.