Kosovo on Stabilizing Peace With Serbia

‘Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic Integration’ is Path to Peace, Foreign Minister Says

Fourteen years after Serbia, Kosovo, and NATO signed the agreement that ended a decade of war in the Balkans, the European Union is still working to consolidate that peace, notably by implementing last year’s deal to normalize Serbia-Kosovo relations. Days before the EU hosted a new round of talks in that process, Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj visited the Atlantic Council to discuss the state of the effort to stabilize the Serbia-Kosovo relationship and Kosovo’s desire to move toward eventual membership in the European Union.

Hoxhaj spoke with a select group of Balkans experts from the Washington policy community, and made these key points:

  • Kosovo is determined to integrate itself into the Euro-Atlantic community, and sees that step as “quintessential for preserving democratic order in Kosovo” and “promoting regional stability.”
  • Kosovo hopes to conclude a Stabilization and Association Agreement this year with the European Union – a first formal agreement between the six-year-old republic and the EU.
  • Kosovo is committed to implementing the April 2013 Brussels Agreement with Serbia, and “has implemented all of its obligations” under that accord. In particular, Kosovo has arranged “the integration of Serb community in Kosovo’s justice, police, and public services, as well as organization of local elections.”
  • As Kosovo seeks its primary goals – formal recognition of its independence by Serbia and Kosovo membership in the United Nations – it sees the EU as a central interlocutor but also believes that “the supportive role of the United States is indispensable.”

Below is an edited version of the minister’s remarks.

Kosovo is a global model of successful statebuilding. Beyond domestic consolidation of state institutions and consolidation of durable peace, Kosovo’s integration into international system is a key priority for preserving peace, stability, and normalcy reached so far. The former without the latter leaves the process incomplete and subject to potential vulnerability. In vein of this, Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic integration remains quintessential for preserving democratic order in Kosovo, promoting regional stability, and advancing common norms and values of Euro-Atlantic community.

In the last six years since independence, Kosovo has managed to build a multi-ethnic, democratic, and secular state. Kosovo has preserved its political stability, which is essential for a young nation that has experienced a violent conflict and war fifteen years ago. Kosovo has built its political institutions, preserved stability, has conducted free elections and changed the governments, has promoted political pluralism, and also provided sufficient space for minorities to participate in public institutions and also represented in the highest government instances.

Kosovo is a secure and stable place. To the security of Kosovo contribute our professional police forces, as well as NATO troops. We are delighted to see that Kosovo is not considered a threat or a security concern by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Recently, also French authorities have included Kosovo in the list of safe countries. The economy of Kosovo is stable and there is growth. The unemployment remains relatively high, but we are working hard to increase employment and encourage foreign investments. In the recent years we have had a growth of 5% annually, which means there is hope and positive signs that our economy is recovering and becoming sustainable. Kosovo has ended its supervised independence, consolidated its domestic sovereignty.

In September 2012, the supervised independence of Kosovo came to a successful end. This means that Kosovo has fulfilled the statehood standards, it has the ultimate authority to govern democratically the country, and has the capacity to take international obligations and enter in international relations. Knowing the history of the region, Kosovo is an example of how it has managed to integrate its minorities in society and how ethnic relations have improved. We have created sufficient space for them to be part of our institutions at the central and local level. Recently we have organized local elections in the north of Kosovo for the first time in 14 years. These municipal institutions will operate under Kosovo law and will gradually become integral part of our governance system.

The Euro-Atlantic integration of Kosovo is of strategic importance. Through continuous efforts and reforms we have succeeded in 2013 to unlock Kosovo’s European perspective by starting formally the negotiations for signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. SAA for Kosovo is the first legal agreement with the EU and it has strong significance for Kosovo statehood. Starting the negotiations for SAA confirms Kosovo’s progress in domestic affairs. SAA is an opportunity to modernize our political system, our economy, and above all our society. It is an important agreement because it contributes to: strengthening of democracy and the rule of law in Kosovo; strengthening of the political and economic stability; development of close political relations between Kosovo and the EU institutions and member-states; fostering economic development of Kosovo; harmonizing EU legislation; and fostering regional cooperation. We have officially started the negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement in October 2013. So far we have held two rounds of successful negotiations with the EU Commission, covering mainly issues related to trade and approximation of legislations. The next round will take place in the upcoming weeks and it will cover the important chapter on political dialogue and cooperation.

The First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations between Kosovo and Serbia represents the first step on the easing of inter-state relations, acceptance of Kosovo institutions and law, and a promising move towards future full normalization and reconciliation. Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia has three goals: normalization of relations with Serb population living in the north; normalization of inter-state relation with Serbia; and normalization of relations with the EU. So the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia is not about discussing the sovereignty of Kosovo, but for improving inter-state relations and hoping that it will result with mutual recognition, reconciliation, and future cooperation. After nearly two years of technical and than political dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia under the mediation of the EU, the first normalization agreement was reached in April 2013. This agreement regulates the modalities of how to dismantle Serb parallel structures and integrate them within Kosovo’s institutional system. In particular, the agreement regulates the municipal representation of Serb community in the north of Kosovo, the integration of Serb community in Kosovo’s justice, police, and public services, as well as organization of local elections. Most importantly, both Kosovo and Serbia have agreed not to block each-others European integration path.

So far, Kosovo has implemented all of its obligations that derived from the agreement. We have provided amnesty for Serb illegal and parallel structures in Kosovo. We have modified the legislation on local government and budget to accommodate their integration. We have held local elections for the first time in the north of Kosovo, with the assistance of OSCE. While Kosovo has been constructive throughout the entire process, Serbia has shown tendencies to deviate from the process in several occasions. The EU should be careful not to advance Serbia’s EU accession without making tangible progress in the implementation of agreements reached with Kosovo under the EU mediation. The EU credibility is at question here.

Despite these achievements, Kosovo in 2014 faces a number of challenges in its Euro-Atlantic path. First, signing of SAA during 2014 would be the first legal and bilateral agreement between Kosovo and the EU, which will reflect positively on Kosovo regional and international position. Signing of SAA will enable Kosovo to align its foreign policy with the EU’s foreign policy and act with a single voice on global issues. We hope to conclude SAA in 2014. We hope that political will within EU member states will remain. Kosovo was promised signing of SAA as part of the normalization dialogue – where the integration process for Kosovo and Serbia is intended to be rewarded after the constructive work during the dialogue. A major challenge remains the delay of recognition of Kosovo by Greece, Slovakia, Rumania, Cyprus, and Spain. Pro-active efforts are needed to convince these five EU member states that recognizing Kosovo is a right decision, it is in the interest of European stability and unity, and above all it does not have implication for their internal issues. Despite these differences within the EU, we need to ensure that Kosovo European agenda moves on and Kosovo finally returns to Europe where it belonged historically.

The recognition of Kosovo independence by Serbia remains the most important priority. On 19 April 2013, the first historical agreement was finally reached between the Republic of Kosovo and Serbia, facilitated by the EU, outlining the principles that govern the normalization of inter-state relations. Through this agreement Serbia de facto recognized the political existence of Kosovo, recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as it recognized Kosovo’s Constitution and laws. Despite all the achievements so far, arguably there can be no full normalization of relations unless the following five conditions are met:

1. Full implementation of agreements reached so far, without tendencies for re-negotiating and diverging the substance of agreements;
2. Complete dismantling of Serb parallel structures from the north of Kosovo;
3. Full integration of Serbs into Kosovo institutions and constructive attitude towards Kosovo state, as it was the case with the integration of Serbs during the implementation of Ahtisaari proposal after 2008;
4. The sovereignty of Kosovo should be respected, and Serbia should remove obstacles for Kosovo’s membership in regional, European, and international organizations, including here the UN; and
5. Finally, full normalization will happen when Serbia recognizes formally the independence and statehood of Kosovo.

However, there is hope that bilateral issues between Kosovo and Serbia will be resolved as part of our European integration process. The EU in its negotiating framework with Serbia has made it clear that Serbia before joining the EU needs to reach a legally binding comprehensive normalization agreement that improves significantly inter-state relations, resolve outstanding bilateral issues, remove potential obstacles in Kosovo’ EU integration path, and demark the inter-state border. This is a hopeful process, which needs to be taken seriously by Serbia and once and forever remove its hostage attitude towards Kosovo. Beyond EU’s central role in this process, the supportive role of the United States is indispensable. In fact, without US support Kosovo could not have reached the agreement in the first place. Equally, the focus of US diplomacy in the region is crucial for maintaining stability and advancing our joint path towards fill integration in the Euro-Atlantic community.

With regard to multilateral agenda, in 2014 Kosovo needs to start comprehensive preparation for step-by-step membership in regional and international organizations. A priority for Kosovo remains membership in the Council of Europe (CoE). The goal of Kosovo to become a member of the CoE is based on principles and values that our society shares with this organization. Kosovo aims to become a reliable member and to empower the rights and freedoms of our citizens and democracy. So far, 34 out of 47 member states of CoE have recognized Kosovo. With these countries we have strong partnership. So, in terms of criteria for membership, Kosovo has the majority of votes in the Council of Ministers. We have also wide support in the Parliamentary Assembly of CoE.

The most important goal for Kosovo’s foreign policy remains admission to the United Nations. Admission to the UN enables Kosovo to gain universal recognition and legal solidification of statehood, marks the end of UNMIK and NATO presence in Kosovo, and improves Kosovo’s regional and international position. Kosovo fulfils all the conditions to become a full member of UN. Membership to the UN is open only to States, who are subject of international law. According to the Article 4 of the UN Charter there are two conditions for a state to become a member of the UN: 1) peace-loving character of the state; and 2) acceptance of the obligations of the UN Charter. Kosovo fulfils both criteria. Kosovo fulfils all the criteria of a state as subject of international law: it has a defined territory, a coherent population, an effective government, and the capacity to enter diplomatic relations. Beyond these, Kosovo is a democratic state that domestically respects and protects human and minority rights and regionally is a constructive contributor to peace and stability that does not have hostile relations with any country. Kosovo has the institutional and political capacity to accept and uphold to the obligations deriving from the UN Charter. Kosovo has consolidated its political institutions and has a fully functioning diplomatic service that is capable to engage in bilateral and multilateral affairs and in particular to become full and active member of the UN bodies and its affiliated agencies.

The Euro-Atlantic integration is of strategic importance for Kosovo. Without the integration in NATO and EU, Kosovo as a small state will remain vulnerable in the region and in the world. Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic integration is linked to our geographic position, European identity and culture. Our history of insecurity and constant external occupation and threats make a strong case for Kosovo to pursue membership in the Euro-Atlantic institutions. However, we are aware and committed for building a European Kosovo at home. In 2013, our Kosovo Security Force, which is being trained and assisted by NATO, has reached its operational capabilities. This is an important milestone in the process of becoming a NATO member state. Kosovo should seek membership in the Adriatic Charter as a regional security initiative that exchanges experiences and information on security challenges in the region. In the immediate future, membership in the Adriatic Charter would be beneficial for strengthening the rule of law, fighting corruption and trans-national organized crime, as well as strengthening the cooperation on border security. Based on these achievements, Kosovo is ready to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme which would benefit reforming and strengthening Kosovo’s defence policy, strengthen civilian-military partnership and civilian oversight, advance the preparatory measures for emergency management, and other human and nature related threats.

In sum, Kosovo in the last six years since independence has built its democratic institutions and consolidated a stable peace with the indispensable support of the US, European Union, and the UN. The time has come for Kosovo to move from being consumer of security to a contributor to international peace and security. Driven by the desire to cultivate global commons, Kosovo can contribute with troops and police in crisis management, peacekeeping, and post-conflict peacebuilding as part of NATO and EU missions abroad. Kosovo can play an important role in combat and non-combat aspects of peace support operations.