OREANDA-NEWS. Pristina, Speech by Commissioner Hahn at the meeting with Prime Minister Isa Mustafa and Government 

Prime Minister, Ministers,

I am delighted to be with you today on the occasion of my first trip to Kosovo since taking up my mandate in November. My visit will be the first of many over the next five years as we work together to continue our good cooperation.

I would like to use this opportunity to highlight what I see as the main challenges that need to be addressed to ensure Kosovo and the EU grow closer together and that Kosovo citizens can prosper.

2014 – a year of progress

I would like to start by emphasizing the importance of 2014 for EU-Kosovo relations. The year was marked by the initialling of our Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The SAA is comprehensive and robust and will cement Kosovo's position in the mainstream of the EU's policy for the Western Balkans. I very much hope it will be signed in the spring and concluded in the autumn so that it can enter into force early next year.

2014 was also an important year for Kosovo domestically. The elections in June were a success and I congratulate Kosovo for this. Fair and transparent elections are the backbone of any stable society and a precondition for a healthy political system. The difficulties experienced following the elections do not diminish this fact.

The formation of this government showed that Kosovo's political actors can overcome difficulties and reach compromises for the good of the country. This inclusivity and engagement with the opposition will need to continue, as implementation of Kosovo's European reform agenda requires broad political consensus and buy-in from all stakeholders.

Dialogue with Serbia vital for Kosovo's future

Equally important was the news that Kosovo's EU-facilitated dialogue with Serbia resumed last month after an interruption of close to a year. The dialogue with Serbia remains vital for Kosovo's European future, and the normalisation of relations should be your key commitment for the months and years ahead. Existing agreements need to be implemented in full and new agreements reached, no matter how challenging this may seem. Kosovo's progress will be determined by your capacity to negotiate and compromise.

Addressing the fundamentals first

Progress will also be determined by other reforms. You will recall that our Progress Report of October last year identified the key areas needing to be addressed by the countries in the region, including Kosovo. The emphasis remains on the rule of law, reform of public administration and on strengthening socio-economic development. To address these three fundamentals, commitment, conviction and courage will be required on your part.

Economic performance not only about money but important reforms

Firstly, and of crucial importance, is the need for Kosovo to be seen as a place to do business and invest. This means that Kosovo needs to protect business interests, have an impartial judiciary, and apply the law equally to all. But it also means that Kosovo must become a place where returns on investment are solid.

To achieve this, and create the resulting growth and jobs, Kosovo's economy will require focused economic reform to enhance its competitiveness. I am therefore very grateful for Kosovo's first Economic Reform Programme (ERP), which Prime Minister Mustafa submitted to the Commission earlier this month. I congratulate you, Prime Minister, and your government on this achievement. Over the next few weeks we will review and discuss the proposed reforms with you and provide specific recommendations.

And our support extends beyond this. Kosovo's economic and sector reforms will also continue to benefit from our direct technical and financial assistance. We are working to increase the efficiency and relevance of our financial assistance under the IPA programme with the aim of gradually introducing the concept of budget support to Kosovo. This will enable us to directly support Kosovo's efforts to reform sectors that are critical for its socio-economic development, providing these reforms are embedded in a sound structural framework.

Our support would no longer take the form of tendering by our office here in Pristina, but come in the shape of budgetary transfers to Kosovo's Consolidated Budget. But this will only happen if Kosovo's administration and control systems are ready for it. We want to ensure our support is well targeted, will achieve the results intended and is managed responsibly. I am therefore grateful for and encouraged by the first draft Sector Planning Documents submitted in December.      

Importance of continuous cooperation with EULEX

Secondly, Kosovo's ongoing cooperation with EULEX will continue to be important for the future of the rule of law in this country. The EULEX mandate is set to end in 18 months' time, and Kosovo needs to use that time to make the most of the advice EULEX has to offer. At the same time it will need to prepare itself to take over remaining EULEX responsibilities so that the foundations of its judiciary system are solid and that its law enforcement is efficient and effective. Of course, we will continue to assist you in this effort, both before and beyond June 2016.

Thirdly, Kosovo needs to continue to work on the follow-up to the findings of the Special Investigative Task Force, irrespective of how challenging these findings may be. It needs to adapt its constitution and adopt legislation that will allow for the establishment of the Specialist Court as quickly as possible.

Visa Liberalisation – progress made, more to be done

I would not want to leave you today without referring to visa liberalisation, which I know is an issue you hold close to your hearts. Kosovo has made great progress following the first and second visa progress reports and I encourage you to continue to implement their recommendations. However, these recommendations are not the only requirements that need to be met. Before we can recommend visa-free status for Kosovo citizens, the number of asylum applications to the EU and the number of people irregularly staying in the Schengen area need to fall. I therefore appeal to you to strengthen your border controls and inform travellers that they will not be granted asylum.

Prime Minister, Ministers,

I have tried to highlight the challenges that lie ahead for Kosovo as I see them, and reiterate that the Commission is committed to helping you tackle them. I would be very grateful for your views on these challenges and for suggestions on ways we can better help you address them.

Thank you.