29th Sep 2023

Kosovo optimistic on EU prospects two years after independence

  • Independence day on 17 February 2007 was celebrated by ethnic Albanian Kosovars from Pristina to New York (pictured) (Photo: angela_n)

Kosovo predicts that it will be an EU member before 2020. But two years after its declaration of independence, its EU integration process is facing problems.

Asked by Austrian daily Der Standard in an interview on Tuesday (16 February) whether Kosovo will get into the EU by the end of this decade, its foreign minister, Skender Hyseni, said: "I am optimistic that we will be in before that."

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Mr Hyseni forecast that the five remaining EU countries that do not recognise Kosovo - Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain - will reconsider their position after the international court in the Hague rules on the legality of its status, a move expected in June.

"My impression is that those states who don't recognise [Kosovo] can expect friendly pressure from others. Greece is going in the right direction," he explained.

The EU is deeply engaged in Kosovo.

Its rule of law mission, Eulex, is the bloc's largest in the world, with 2,600 people on the ground. Twenty EU countries take part in the International Steering Group, which helps oversee the Kosovo government. The union has pumped in over €5 billion of aid since 1999.

Despite the non-recognition issue, EU states have opened tentative talks on visa-free travel. A so-called "tracking" group meets around three times a year to pave the way for a pre-accession treaty, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).

One of the most frequently cited problems on Kosovo's path to normalcy is the well-funded separatist ethnic Serb movement in the north of Kosovo. But despite the EU's investment in Pristina, tensions between Eulex and ethnic Albanians are also on the rise.

Eulex' judicial wing will on 22 February open a trial against Albin Kurti, the leader of the Vetevendosje ("self-determination") political movement, for organising trouble outside official buildings in 2007.

The trial has highlighted the fact that Eulex itself and its outgoing forerunner, the UN mission in Kosovo (Unmik) enjoy legal impunity, despite some controversial incidents.

"They are doing nothing against the Romanian Unmik policemen who killed Arben Xheladini and Mon Balaj in 2007 [two Vetevendosje activists], and who wounded another 80 people, by shooting rubber bullets at their heads from 20 metres away," Mr Kurti, who says he does not recognise Eulex' authority and who aims to boycott the court proceedings, told this website.

The Vetevendosje leader pointed out that EU integration could aggravate Kosovo's economic problems in the coming years.

If the visa free deal goes ahead, Kosovo's best and brightest are likely to make an exodus from the impoverished region. When the SAA is put in place, abolishing customs duties on EU imports, it will leave a major hole in Kosovo's budget.

"Two million Kosovar people are now turning into a nation of consumers of Serbian, regional and European products," Mr Kurti said on Kosovo's trade imbalance, which saw €1.4 billion of imports last year to €104 million exports.

"This [the visa deal] will cause a massive movement of our citizens into EU countries searching for a better life as they don't see any future in Kosovo. Just to recall, during the first three weeks after the EU scrapped visas for Macedonians, more than 160,000 Macedonian citizens left the country."

It is unclear how many have since returned.

Meanwhile, Eulex spokesman Nicholas Hawton told EUobserver that the mission has made a "good start."

"It is fair to say there is frustration about the levels of unemployment, corruption, crime and other social problems. The reason Eulex Kosovo is on the ground here is to significantly improve the lives of ordinary people in one, crucial area - that of the rule of law."


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