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Kosovo

Capital Prishtina
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 377 (Monaco); 381 (Serbia)
Mobile Codes 44
ccTLD (TBD)
Currency Euro
Land Area 10,908 sq km
Population 1.8 million
Language Albanian, Serbian, Turkish
Major Religions Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism

Kosovo’s EU Relations and Reform Process: Interview with Lutfi Haziri

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: Although its 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia has still not been recognized by many nations, Kosovo is pressing on with its attempts to acquire greater global stature and hopes to eventually join the European Union. In the following new interview, Balkanalysis.com contributor Maria Neag in Brussels gets the views of Lutfi Haziri, a Kosovar MP and Chairman of the Committee for European Integration and Head of the Parliamentary Group of LDK on Kosovo’s need for reform, EU-visa liberalisation schemes, the situation of the Roma minority, Kosovo’s dialogue with international legal entities.

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Kosovo and the EU

Maria Neag: First of all, let me warmly thank you for your interest in expressing your views about Kosovo’s latest developments. I will start pragmatically by asking you if the EU’s policies and funds have an added value in Kosovo. What is the public ‘s current opinion on Kosovo’s EU perspectives?

Lutfi Haziri: Currently, public opinion appears to be very positive towards EU integration. A general improvement of the political and economic situation is linked with those who support Kosovo’s EU perspective. One of the main reasons is that people believe that Kosovo’s integration in the EU would allow them to improve their living conditions, which means higher incomes, more jobs, more security and a higher rate of democracy. Above all, Kosovo’s citizens feel European.

"Public opinion appears to be very positive towards EU integration," believes MP Haziri.

MN: In order to achieve the EU integration targets, certain efforts need to be done by Kosovo’s administration. What are the priorities of the present political leadership?

LH: One of the priorities of the Government during the last three years was the implementation of the Ahtisaari plan: [by] now most of its parts have been implemented, and as such the proposal is fully enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo. Currently, the priorities of the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo are very much oriented towards a European Integration agenda, not just by ticking the standards but by fully fulfilling the European criteria as this contributes towards improving the political and economic situation.

Visas

MN: The Western Balkans countries are part of a Visa Liberalisation Scheme. Kosovo, even if it would fulfil the technical requirements, such as biometric passports, will not be able to participate in the visa liberalisation scheme as certain member states have not recognized yet Kosovo’s independence. What do you think is the way forward in this sense as to avoid Kosovo’s isolation in terms of free movement in the EU?

LF: The fact that five member states of the EU did not recognize Kosovo does not mean that Kosovo cannot be part of the visa liberalization process. As is the case with the SAP which has a tailor-made approach towards Kosovo, we believe that the EC and Kosovo will find and apply a tailor-made approach which will allow Kosovo to become part of the full visa liberalization scheme.

MN: The issue of freedom of movement is subject to the Belgrade-Priština dialogue too. Please describe briefly the state of play and relate to our readers if you expect any progress in the near future?

LF: Kosovo during the past years has actively been engaged and looked for solutions for free movement of people, goods and services to the region not only with Belgrade. Belgrade has been constantly blocking the process of free movement by not recognizing the independence of Kosovo and has also been putting pressure on other countries in applying the same measures.

On the other hand, Kosovo has long supported the idea of free movement since it believes that this brings more prosperity, peace and stability to the region. As such, we believe that EU’s role in this dialogue is critical. More pressure would have to be put on Serbia by the EU, so we could achieve free movement of people, goods and services in the region.

MN: The EU has raised concerns regarding mafia activities, human and organ trafficking, drugs smuggling etc. This is one of the reasons why the EU is not keen on starting yet the visa dialogue with Kosovo. Do you think this is a justified concern? What do you think that can be done in this area and who should be responsible for these aspects?

LH: Although during the year Kosovo has been faced with several negative reports regarding human and organ trafficking, drugs smuggling etc, I believe this is not a justified concern. Kosovo has called on EULEX to conduct an independent investigation on these matters. I agree that there is more to be done and Kosovo institutions should be more actively engaged in regional initiatives which aim to fight these bad phenomena. At the same time Kosovo should also establish more concrete relations with Interpol and Europol.

Justice and Home Affairs Issues

MN: The 2010 progress report on Kosovo concluded that the capacity of the public administration is weak, the judiciary is not functioning effectively and the rule of law remains a serious concern. How does the current government intend to tackle the reform of the public administration and judiciary?

LF: Public administration in Kosovo is newly established and continues to be fragile. During the last years, it went through a serious transitional process and after the declaration of independence it rests fully in the hands of Kosovo institutions. The Kosovo government has drafted and passed new legislation in conformity with the Ahtisaari package and EU requirements; however its implementation remains a challenge for the current government.

We, as the opposition, believe that the government should pay high attention to the reform of public administration, as this would enable the citizens to receive better services.

MN: We have witnessed lately some criticism related to EULEX’s activity in Kosovo. How would you assess its impact on the judiciary investigations, corruption cases and constitutional reform?

LF: The expectations about EULEX’s activity were considerably high, specifically about the execution of its mandate in the field of justice, police, and customs. I believe it continues to be at the same level. There are many cases under investigation, and I hope that during this mandate, EULEX will exercise its constitutional role, since it is an organization which has been invited by the state of Kosovo.

MN: In your opinion, does EULEX still have the necessary legitimacy to continue carrying on its mission?

LH: EULEX continues to further extend its legitimacy, especially in the northern part of Kosovo, where its presence is a must.

MN: Apart from the EU, do you believe there is any national or international legal entity to offer more reliable support to Kosovo?

LF: I don’t believe there is a need for another international organization to support Kosovo in legal matters. For many years the United Nation has assisted Kosovo in these matters through its Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and now we have the EULEX mission. I believe the time has come for Kosovo to be part of these and other reliable international organizations.

The Situation of the Roma

MN: Recently, a major concern of the EU, especially of the Hungarian Presidency is the issue of Roma inclusion. How is Kosovo dealing with this issue? What initiatives do you believe to be successful in this field?

LF: The government of Kosovo has adopted a strategy and action plan and has allocated sufficient budget for the return, readmission and reintegration of all the citizens of Kosovo, regardless of their ethnicity, race, or religion.  Kosovo is creating the necessary conditions for Roma inclusion; however unemployment remains a major challenge for the communities. I believe that the proper implementation of the strategy and action plan will positively impact the situation on the ground.

What is more, the rights of the Roma community and other communities are granted by the Constitution of Kosovo and we already have Roma representatives (MPs) in the Parliament of Kosovo. In cases where there is a larger Roma community they are also represented in the Municipal Councils. The Government of Kosovo has put a quota on the employment of minorities in the public administration.

MN: As a last question, for those who were disappointed by the outcome of Kosovo’s independent existence, what message would you pass on regarding its situation and future development?

LF: Kosovo has declared its independence under the will of its citizens and by respecting the highest international democratic standards; this has also been confirmed by the decision of the International Court of Justice. The independence has brought stability to the region, has ensured the highest democratic standards for its citizens. Furthermore, the Republic of Kosovo has been recognized by a large number of countries, it is engaged in contractual relationships with major international organizations, thus confirming the development of a stable and democratic country.

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