Kadri Veseli: Kosovo Could Learn from Bulgaria’s Transition Experience
The President of the Assembly of Kosovo, Kadri Veseli, was in Bulgaria at the end of last week for participation in the third plenary session of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) Parliamentary Assembly, which was one of the final events of Bulgaria’s chairmanship-in-office of SEECP. Mr. Veseli has served as President of the Assembly of Kosovo since December 2014. In May 2016, he was elected unanimously as leader of the largest party in Kosovo, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK). In an interview for Novinite, Mr. Veseli shared his views on the importance of regional cooperation, the state of bilateral relations between Bulgaria and Kosovo and the progress of Kosovo on its path to European integration.
Mr. Veseli, with Bulgaria completing its chairmanship of the SEECP at the end of June, how successful do you think the SEECP has been in enhancing stability, security and cooperation in the region?
We are very thankful of what Bulgaria is doing, especially its very positive role in creating a good environment here in the region and maintaining good relationship between the Balkan countries. Bulgaria also plays a positive role in SEECP which we joined only a couple of years ago. I think SEECP plays a very positive role and in the case of the Parliamentary Assembly it brings parliamentarians together to discuss and share our views and at the same time to pursue initiatives which are of mutual interest at regional level. This is very important. We have very good bilateral relations with Bulgaria, but at the same time initiatives such as SEECP, which started exactly from Sofia, are very important and we will keep on this agenda because it is of interest to all Southeast European countries. It is very important to work together and to share the experiences. Bulgaria has very interesting transition period and that is important for us as we want to learn what was successful and at the same time get to know what was the negative experience so we can avoid that in our case. In these terms, the leadership of Bulgaria is really excellent and we are very thankful to them.
At their meeting earlier in June, the presidents of Bulgaria and Kosovo vowed to work towards enhancing the economic cooperation between the two countries. Economic cooperation was also one in the focus of your meeting with Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev. Which sectors do you think offer the best prospects for deepening of bilateral cooperation?
Yes, I met President Plevneliev, who is an excellent man and a very positive leader. I had a good discussion with him on economic issues which are of interest to us. As I said, we have excellent relations with Bulgaria and we want to continue this kind of partnership. At the same time we want to intensify the relations in terms of more business cooperation. I also had the opportunity to meet the chair of the Bulgarian parliamentary group for friendship with Kosovo, Georgi Andonov, with whom we agreed that we should work together. There are a lot of opportunities for Bulgarian businesses to invest in Kosovo. Since some of these businesses have very good experience on regional level it will be good if they come to Kosovo. We really invite them to come and invest in Kosovo. At the same time we will seek all the opportunities which we have together to develop this kind of partnership between us. On the one hand we have excellent political relations, but on the other hand it will be good if we work together to improve our economic ties as well.
How helpful has Bulgaria been in assisting Kosovo on its path to European integration?
We are very thankful to Bulgaria for having supported Kosovo since early 1999. Then on the process of recognition, Bulgaria was one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo. Really, we have very good tradition between ourselves and we should work together in many other fields, especially like I mentioned before, on economic issues. I would like to use the opportunity to invite Bulgarian businesses to come and invest in Kosovo. Kosovo is a friendly country of Bulgaria and Kosovo has a free market economy. Moreover, as neighbours we have to share our values and interests. The partnership with Bulgaria is very important for us and we need to continue developing it. This has to include not just the excellent political and diplomatic cooperation, but also improving our economic ties. As I said before, Bulgaria has quite good experience, both positive and negative, on its own transitional period and especially the positive one we would like to follow it in the process of European integration. As you know, Kosovo has as its main priority and national goal integration into the European Union (EU).
Turning to the EU, in a speech to the Assembly of Kosovo in May, EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, once again reaffirmed the European future of Kosovo. What is your estimate of the prospects for Kosovo to achieve a progress in its status as potential candidate within the foreseeable future?
We are very thankful to the EU on signing the first contractual agreement between Kosovo as independent country and the EU as an institution which gives Kosovars an opportunity to become more practically seen as part of Europe. We will seek all opportunities of this very positive first step to move forward on visa liberalisation and at the same time to open a new era in the process of European integration. This is our national goal but also these are our citizens’ priorities – European integration and fulfilling all standards, maintaining good relations with neighbouring countries, maintaining good relations at the regional level through initiatives such as SEECP. At the same time, we would like to play positive role on global issues which bother all of us such as the fight against terrorism. As a newly independent country, we are very interested in joining our international partners in addressing the global issues humanity is facing today and to take responsibilities as an independent country.
It has been slightly over two months since the entry into force of Kosovo’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement. What progress has been achieved in implementing the agreement and what challenges lie ahead in building closer ties with the EU?
We are just on the start of this new era. The challenges are many and we see them in people’s daily life, especially as concerns our economic development. We have to improve our economic performance, to develop our country and to create all the possibilities to attract the foreign investors to come and invest in Kosovo. That is very important for us. Another issue which is very important for us is strengthening the rule of law. We made a lot of progress but at the same time we have to create that environment and ensure no one is above the law. That is a negative phenomenon we have seen in transition countries when sometimes people are stronger than institutions. In order to avoid this, strengthening the rule of law should be in focus.
With the current mandate of the EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo (EULEX) coming to an end on 14 June 2016, how successful has the mission been in enhancing the rule of law in Kosovo?
That is an interesting question. In my opinion, it is not so much about how successful EULEX was in Kosovo, but how successful we were all together, Kosovars and our international partners. We made a progress in many areas including strengthening the rule of law. But at the same time there is a lot of room to improve ourselves. I see the next role of any EU mission in Kosovo as part of our joint efforts on making Kosovo a stable and prosperous country. It is important for people to live in prosperity, but at the same time the institutions should be based on the rule of law. Having made a huge progress, we will see together about the next mandate of EULEX as we need the strong presence of our international partners. We will find the best option to continue this kind of partnership.
Kosovo and EU member states have agreed in principle to extend the mandate of EULEX and the government in Prishtina has just approved a draft on its extension. Will the mandate be extended for another two years?
It is exactly what I said before. It is important to not just look on the mandate and deadlines and to focus not only on the pro forma but more on the substance. We need to think all together on our long-term partnership and the way in which we will choose to continue our partnership, including the mandate of EULEX. When we speak about these deadlines you can erect this kind of misunderstanding that our partnership is set to a certain time and deadlines. No, we are interested to have long-term partnership and to find the appropriate way to work together on our joint efforts, Kosovars and the EU.
Extension of the mandate has also to be ratified by the Assembly of Kosovo. As Speaker of the Assembly do you think there will be enough parliamentary support on extending the mandate?
I hope so, I hope on the maturity of our leadership and the MPs in Kosovo that we will find the best solution to finalise the agreement for further involvement of the EU’s mission in Kosovo, but at the same time to continue working together. Again, I do not see any trouble in the partnership between Kosovo and the EU. On the contrary, I see so many points on which we can work together. We are part of Europe and we need to make sure that what Kosovars and international partners are doing together is helping Kosovo to become part of the EU as soon as possible.
Recently the European Commission proposed the opening of the Schengen Area to visa-free travel for Kosovars. What specific benefits will visa-free travel bring and in what other ways can people-to-people contacts be enriched?
Free movement is one of the founding values of the EU. Let’s not forget that when the EU was being created as an organization, one of its main purposes was to have free trade and later free movement of people and labour forces. Really, for us Kosovars, it is a painful issue because we are the only country in the region to have been isolated for almost six years. We feel in some way abandoned on this issue and it is very painful because 70 % of our population is youth. Having in mind that all these people are so pro-EU and not having the opportunity to move freely in Europe is a really strange feeling. Sometimes we feel that we were unfairly treated on these issues. It is not about that Kosovars will move to Europe because we are just 1.8 million inhabitants in Kosovo. Actually, around 35 % of our population has lived for almost 20-30 years abroad in different European countries. But, it is very important that our students and academics, our businesses are able to move freely. This is an issue of mutual interest as it is important not just for Kosovars, but also for European countries to get to know each other, to exchange our views and our experiences in science and business. This is the real life and we have to communicate with each other and to build bridges rather than isolate each other.
The normalization of Kosovo’s relations with Serbia is a vital precondition for the European future of both Prishtina and Belgrade. Can you please elaborate on the latest developments in this direction and will the ultimate goal of reconciliation be achieved?
We started the dialogue in Brussels with Serbia in order to achieve that good environment and feeling between us which will create a better future for all Balkan countries and nations. Let me say, we are an independent sovereign country and we respect the sovereignty of Serbia. We see the improvement of our relations as an opportunity for both countries to create better living conditions for our citizens. At the same time we want to create better investment climate and environment to attract foreign investors to come to Kosovo. We think that is the right thing – to communicate with each other and to agree between us, but at the same time we have to keep to our commitments. When we agree something we have to implement that and we have some concerns on these issues, especially on the free movement of citizens, who are hampered to move freely because we still have these barricades which are really a shame for Europe not just for the Balkans. At the same time, Serbia should not block Kosovo getting integrated into international organizations. We hope we will push the dialogue agenda in Brussels and continue the efforts to improve our relationship. We are a sovereign country which respects all neighbouring countries including Serbia and we hope to maintain good understanding between us in the future.
At a meeting earlier in June the President of Kosovo and NATO Secretary General affirmed their interest in seeing the relationship between Kosovo and the Alliance evolving further. How far can this evolution go by the end of the decade?
We are sovereign country which is completely pro-West oriented and we want to become part of NATO as soon as we can. We are working very hard to fulfill all standards which are required because our spirit is West-oriented. We are not just West-oriented, we belong to that and we want to be part of that. The EU and NATO are our biggest national strategic priorities and we will move on this agenda always together with our partners.
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