Kosovo's young people deserve a better future
By Ethem Ceku
The end of the 1999 war opened a new chapter of history for the citizens of Kosovo. We are forever grateful to the European and American civilizations for the hand they extended - they made it possible for us to live freely and to have the right to sovereign decision-making.
Since February 2008, Kosovo is among the newest countries in the world, recognised by 76 members of the United Nations. Every new recognition should have an effect on the country's access to international organisations as a fully-fledged member and a democratic partner.
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We will never be able to demonstrate our credibility if we are not given a chance to do so in international forums. On the other hand, our own institutions should avoid risking relations with international bodies by non-compliance with hard-won agreements.
Kosovo is now in state-building mode and the task is not an easy one. Kosovo's men and women are doing their best to cope with the challenges of a new country. Our political class is fairly young and lacking the necessary experience in running an open market economy.
Having lived in a monist state for half a century, with a fully-centralised economy, and then gone through the demolition of this structure in the 1990s by the Serbian regime, Kosovo has struggled to cultivate a political elite up to the job of facing today's challenges.
Lack of direct investment, an unemployment rate of up to 45 percent, poverty levels of up to 17 percent, often inadequate courts, the remoteness of EU accession prospects and strained relations with major bodies, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - all these stand in the way of Kosovo's development.
Prisitina recently lost IMF soft loans to the amount of $87 million under a so-called 'Stand-by Arrangement' and relations were downgraded to a 'Staff Monitored Program' which does not include financial assistance.
This had a domino effect of stopping also European Commission loans of €50 million and up to €20 million from other donors. The financial crisis has made the international community wary of uncontrolled national spending.
The main fear is that Kosovo is entering into long-term obligations on budgetary expenditure while aiming to cover its growing deficit by one-off auctions, such as privatisation of its Telecom firm or the Albania-Kosovo-Serbia hghway project.
Pristina must eat a strict diet of macroeconomic sustainability to avoid being listed by the IMF as a problem country. Its budget deficit of 5 percent of GDP is already above EU criteria for eurozone eligibility.
Foreign investment or other ways for domestic businesses to acces external capital would help. Unlike the many ageing European societies, Kosovo has a key resource in attracting multinational investors - its young people. Young people who are probably the cheapest workforce on the continent.
Kosovo already has solid experience in mineral extraction and processing, coal, electricity generation, metal processing, textiles, the food industry, the wood industry and - most recently - rapid development in the IT sector. This experience must now adapt to new market economy conditions.
The World Bank says Kosovo is the 119th 'best' place on the globe to do business out of 183.
In the coming months, we hope to see bureaucratic barriers reduced. On top of this, the ruling majority must foster a spirit of dialogue and co-operation with the opposition in order to guarantee the long-term viability of capital-intensive projects.
Political consensus is vital for a country with a poorly-functioning judical system. Numbers in parliament do not always guarantee quality decisions.
The presence of US and many EU diplomatic missions in Kosovo facilitate our communication with the world at large - they should also serve as a bridge to investments by their corporations in our country and the export of our products and services further afield.
The writer is the former minister of energy and mining of Kosovo. He is currently a lecturer on European integration and globalisation at the University of Pristina