Esteemed Head of State,
Respectable Prime Minister and Ministers,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am truly delighted to be in Pristina and to have the opportunity to address the National Assembly of Kosovo. This institution represents the heart of your democracy and is the highest expression of the will of the people and of your country’s independence. It is also a political mirror of Kosovo’s multi-ethnic identity. I wish, therefore, to express my warmest thanks to President Krasniqi for inviting me to speak to you today, and to extend my cordial greeting to all the authorities present.
My intervention here today, after my visit to Belgrade yesterday and my recent missions to Tirana and Sarajevo, is intended to confirm Italy’s priority focus on the Balkans region and on its political stability, economic potential and “European perspective”. It is also, most notably, a testimony to the importance we attach to Kosovo’s security and development, both from the bilateral perspective and in multilateral contexts.
Kosovo’s independence: an irreversible fact and a responsibility that must be exercised - More than two years have gone by since 17 February 2008. Italy immediately recognised your independence, which is now irreversible and a key element in the stability of the region. But independence, as you know, is also a status that requires the exercise of specific responsibilities. At the national level, to guarantee the security, the well-being and the rights of all citizens, without distinction and discrimination. At the regional level, to cultivate good neighbourly relations and positive cooperation with the other actors in the area. And at the European level, by adopting and implementing the necessary reforms to proceed along the road of EU integration.
Since 2008, your country has made encouraging progress and I wish to congratulate this Assembly on the commitment it has shown at all times in building and modernising the state of Kosovo. We cannot deny that many problems remain to be resolved: from the situation in northern Kosovo to revitalising the economy. But in the last two years the security situation has most certainly improved, the country’s domestic institutions function more efficiently and Pristina’s IMF and World Bank membership has paved the way for the country’s participation in other multilateral fora.
One particularly significant step in determining this positive trend was the success of last November’s municipal elections. This was a significant political landmark and a valuable testimony to the maturity of the Kosovar democracy. This applies both to the peaceful manner in which the voting took place and to the high turnout, which included minorities such as the Serbian one south of the Ibar river. The manner in which the election was held was a first, satisfactory application of the decentralisation principle. It was, therefore, another step forwards on the road of institution building and domestic stabilisation.
The decentralisation of Kosovo: the cornerstone of its institutional architecture – I wish to emphasise, if I may, that administrative decentralisation is a key element in Kosovo’s institutional architecture. It must, therefore, remain a political priority for the entire country. We need to go on supporting its development, at both the local and central levels, by ensuring that sufficient financial resources are available for it to be applied in full. The European Union views decentralisation not as a goal that has already been achieved but as a commitment that requires an on-going effort, both today and in the future. Its principal aims are to produce concrete benefits for all citizens; to ensure that more efficient public services are made available to all; and to ensure that economic resources are distributed throughout the country in a transparent manner, with local communities directly involved in managing them.
The future of Kosovo: Pristina has a place in the European family – Proceeding along this road and striving to implement the recommendations emanating from Brussels is of fundamental importance to the future of Kosovo. And Kosovo’s future is in the European Union. On this last point I wish to be very clear, speaking, as I am, before the representatives of the Kosovar people. It must be clear, in other words, that while not all of the EU’s member states recognise Kosovo, that does not prevent the Union from playing an active political and economic role with respect to Pristina. Just as it does not prevent Kosovo from being able to count on a solid “European perspective”, in line with that promised to the entire region.
Italy is firmly convinced that Pristina must not be left behind while the other Balkan countries are given the opportunity to make further progress in the euro-Atlantic integration process. We feel, rather, that it is now in the interest of all of us to complete the European Union’s south-eastward enlargement process, without leaving “empty spaces” on the map. Naturally, each country is called upon to follow its own pathway to reach the goal, in the time and manner dictated by the capacity of each to respect the parameters laid down by the Union. But the end destination is and must continue to be the same for all.
In the Italian view we need to take into account that in addition to the traditional need to definitively stabilise the Balkan region and so ensure the security of Europe, globalisation suggests a more dynamic way to look at the EU enlargement process and the relationship between Europe and the Balkans. Welcoming the Balkan countries, and Turkey, into the European family is a challenge to grasp and win, if the Union truly aspires to play a more high-profile role on the global stage. If it aims to exert a greater influence in the Caucasus, in central Asia, in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean. If it wants to recover economic competitiveness and guarantee its energy security more effectively; if it wishes to play a part in defining a multilateral order that reflects and respects different cultural and religious identities.
Giving Pristina a more concrete “European perspective”: visa dialogue and trade agreement – In this light, the first step is to give a new dynamism to the region’s “European perspective” by seeking to make it more tangible and fostering a clearer understanding of the positive impact it can have on citizens’ daily lives. Entry to Europe must once again become an attractive political goal, a factor spurring the governments of the region to implement an agenda of ambitious reforms. We are thinking, for instance, of the positive dynamic triggered in the countries of the region by the possibility of visa liberalisation. A measure from which Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia have recently benefited, with Bosnia and Albania likely to enjoy its advantages by autumn of this year.
Freedom of movement is a legitimate right and I fully realise, having launched the visa liberalisation exercise with the Balkans in 2008 as Deputy President of the European Commission, just how much Kosovo’s citizens too aspire to achieving this result. While for Pristina the road to follow is still both uphill and long, the European Commission is working hard to open the “visa dialogue” with your country – a dialogue that should lead to full visa liberalisation once all the required reforms have been implemented. In this respect, of the various conditions that Kosovo must satisfy, the country needs most notably to put in place “readmission legislation” and improve conditions for the integration of “returned Kosovo citizens”.
Another sector in which Kosovo could definitely be given a more concrete “European perspective” is the economy and trade. Italy feels that every effort must be made – by Pristina too – in order to sign a trade agreement between the European Union and Kosovo. Also on this dossier the preparatory work is proceeding at the technical level and we hope that sufficient progress can be made to enable the Commission to ask the Council for a negotiating mandate.
In any case, the European Union must contribute to create the conditions for Kosovo to achieve a true economic recovery, especially in the difficult times we are living through today. I am thinking here of the possibility of fully exploiting all the margins for intervention offered by the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). I am thinking too of the need for the Kosovar authorities to follow every route to trigger a virtuous circle of socio-economic development by using to maximum effect the considerable international assistance channelled to the country. Sustainable economic growth for Kosovo will also be fostered by prudent fiscal policy management in line with the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund, and by approving important reforms in matters concerning the rule of law, fighting corruption and organised crime, good governance and the public administration.
The Sarajevo Conference: a test of European maturity and regional cooperation – Another step that we can take to move forward the “European perspective” for the Balkans, and therefore for Kosovo too, is to ensure that the region remains a priority on the Union’s agenda. This was the essence of the “8-Point Plan” I proposed a year ago, a road-map that to a large extent has been implemented. This is the spirit with which Italy advanced the proposal, accepted by the Spanish Presidency, that 10 years on from the Zagreb Summit a high-level EU-Western Balkans political meeting should be held, with the participation of other key partners for the region such as the United States, Russia and Turkey.
This event is supposed to take place on the 2nd of June in Sarajevo and will be a unique opportunity to give the countries of the region a new impetus in their progress towards full EU membership. If the Conference is to be a success, all the countries of the region, and first and foremost Belgrade and Pristina, must participate and display a constructive and flexible attitude. From this perspective, the Conference will be an important test of European maturity and regional cooperation. A test that we fully expect will be passed positively.
A call for a Belgrade-Pristina dialogue: the need to work for national and regional reconciliation – It is starting from these considerations that I wish today to renew to you the invitation I extended yesterday to the authorities I met in Belgrade with a view to opening a fruitful dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. We need to make every effort to foster true national and regional reconciliation. Pristina and Belgrade must find a channel for constructive communication.
Nurturing this dialogue is of vital importance. First, to prevent regional cooperation mechanisms from being invalidated. Such mechanisms are and remain a key dimension for the stability and development of all the countries of the area and for their pathway to European integration. And second, to improve the situation in Northern Kosovo, where we need to find pragmatic solutions to concrete problems such as the administration of justice and the operation of the customs system. There is an urgent need to improve the economic and social conditions of the communities, the quality of life of the ordinary people living in that part of Kosovo. It is in this context that, as you know, the Italian Ambassador in Pristina is working as EU facilitator to strengthen and promote the EU’s views and values, including in areas where dialogue and mediation at community level is needed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Italy is in the front line in Kosovo’s institution building and international consolidation as an independent country. Our commitment in the international missions in Kosovo has always been significant, in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Today we still rank as one of the leading contributors to EULEX, the European “rule of law” mission (with over 200 officials), to KFOR, the Atlantic Alliance mission (with 1400 personnel), and for the training of Kosovo Security Forces (KSF). As regards in particular KFOR, I wish to underscore that the decision to reconfigure the mission does not imply a NATO’s disengagement from Kosovo. On the contrary, Italy is convinced that the Atlantic Alliance will continue, albeit in a more flexible manner, to operate as a key and vital point of reference for the security of the entire region.
Still in the context of the KFOR mission, I am especially keen to remind you of Italy’s long-standing efforts to protect your country’s cultural and religious heritage. A commitment that finds its highest expression in protecting and assisting the religious sites of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In this respect, Italy will continue to exhort all the parties concerned to ensure that this precious artistic and spiritual heritage acts as a source of dialogue and reconciliation and not of division and confrontation, with full consideration of legitimate differences in religious and cultural traditions. We must be perfectly aware that the security and development of Kosovo and the Balkans also depend on the defence of multi-ethnic co-existence and respect for the fundamental human rights of all, starting with the right to religious freedom. We therefore need to go on building a concept of peace that is based not just on military security but also on justice and on authentic national and regional reconciliation. Kosovo is to be the homeland of all its citizens. In pursuing this goal the authorities and people of Kosovo can always count on the cooperation and friendship of Italy.