June 17, 2024 | Monday

Ambassador Tomáš Szunyog’s Opening Remarks for Europe Day 2024 Celebrations

Dear friends and partners,

I wish to offer you a warm welcome to tonight’s reception. As every year, we gather to mark and celebrate Europe Day, 9 May.

This day carries significant importance for the European continent, for the European Union and its member states. It carries a message of unity, solidarity, and harmony. It also symbolises a significant task that the European Union was bestowed with: that of peace and prosperity on our continent. 

Such important days provide a good moment for reflection. For me, this year more than ever, as I am in the last year of my mandate and will be leaving Kosovo in the summer. On top of that, I was recently in an elementary school where the school-age children gave me an important lesson: they made me go back to the basics to remind myself why we are all here. 

And you know how it is with the 10-year-olds: you cannot talk to them about policy developments. You need to tell them something they can see, touch, feel, imagine. Otherwise, they come back with numerous questions. I have to say that it was not an easy task, but this is what I said: The European Union represents 27 countries in Europe that came together to make things better, easier and safer for their people. They agreed to work together, help each other, and to make sure that there is peace in Europe and that people have good, quality lives. 

I hope you will agree with me that this is and remains the essence of the EU and we likewise want to share it also with Kosovo. This is the main reason why the European Union has such a significant presence here. So, as the children sparked these reflections, I continued thinking about the past four years I spent in Kosovo.
I arrived in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic and, despite the health system crisis, isolation, restrictions in movement and limited human contact, I was very proud to witness and be part of the EU’s support to Kosovo. In this difficult period, the EU supported the health sector and helped Kosovo’s post-pandemic socio-economic recovery. I was also grateful to have personally handed over a portion of vaccine deliveries. 

At the end of this turbulent period, general elections were held in Kosovo followed by a period of political stability where we were finally able to go back to what we call ‘business as usual’, or what I am dubbing today as our raison d’être

In the past years, one of the brightest moments of the EU-Kosovo relations is surely the final adoption of visa liberalisation for Kosovo. This long overdue step brought much needed relief and since 1st January of this year, citizens holding Kosovo passports are able to travel visa-free within the Schengen area. This development symbolises an enhanced closeness between Kosovo and the European Union and encourages deeper cooperation. 

There were many ambitious plans for reforms and Kosovo had a long to-do list on its European integration agenda. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight one of those important and fundamental achievements: adoption of the new Law on General Elections. I was particularly glad to see such a cross-party effort that allowed Kosovo to pass a comprehensive electoral reform, which addressed the majority of recommendations by the EU Election Observation Missions. 

I also wish to also mention the Energy Support Package, which the EU designed to mitigate the energy crisis’ economic and social impact on vulnerable households and SMEs and to support the energy transition and energy security of the region in the long run. Combined with a few other positive developments in the area of green transition, including the new Energy Strategy, the new Renewable Energy Law, the first solar auction and the second auction for wind planned, I am pleased to see Kosovo slowly advancing on its Green Agenda goals. 

Likewise, I wish to commend the government’s recent decision to implement the 2016 Constitutional Court ruling regarding the Dečani monastery. This represents a positive step forward in cementing legal certainty whereby final judicial decisions are enforced and not questioned. 

Now, let us not forget that the past four years did not go without issues. What is more, last year’s events reminded us yet again of the importance of solving issues at the discussion table.

It has been 2 years, 2 months, 13 days and counting since Russia launched its unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. Ever since February 24, 2022 our Union has been standing strongly with Ukraine but also with its partners in the Western Balkans. This, however, is still an open conflict on our continent that unapologetically changed our realities.

Here in Kosovo, we witnessed a serious escalation of the security situation in northern Kosovo in May last year with an eruption of violence that resulted with several people injured, including members of KFOR troops. And just a few months later, in September last year, we were all shocked with the violent attack on Kosovo Police with an unprecedented scale of operation and massive amount of weapons. The tragic loss of life of Kosovo Police sergeant Afrim Bunjaku looms as a serious and painful reminder that we urgently need to change the trajectory of these events.

Once again, this is why there is no other way to move forward but through the EU-facilitated Dialogue. The agreement reached in Brussels on 27 February 2023, followed by March 18 Implementation Annex are both important milestones in this regard and they represent a huge progress for Kosovo more than everyone else. The year of lost time is a pity above all for the people of Kosovo. It is thus time to take a step forward for the benefit of Kosovo and its citizens. 

In line with my theme today – why we are here – I should recall that the Member States reaffirmed the EU commitment towards enlargement in the December EU–Western Balkans Summit and with Council Enlargement Conclusions. For us, enlargement remains a geo-strategic investment in peace, security, stability and prosperity. It is a driver for improving the economic and social conditions of citizens, reducing disparities between countries; it must foster the values on which the Union is founded.

With this in mind, the Council approved the Reform and Growth Facility for the Western Balkans just yesterday, which brings a new financial instrument to support EU-related reforms and economic growth in the region. The idea is simple: as partners proceed with reforms addressing fundamentals and improving the business environment, there comes investment. This Facility aims to boost the economy and create jobs, through a common regional market and progressive economic integration with the EU’s single market.

It is up to Kosovo to capitalise on the full potential offered in the wider enlargement agenda, but also with the new Reform and Growth Facility. While the Union is not complete without the Western Balkans in it, we need to see aspiring members like Kosovo doing the work necessary to be part and benefit from an enlarged, safe and prosperous Union.

If you take a closer look at the entire region, Kosovo is not doing any worse than any other candidate country. By this logic, there is no reason why you should not be able to advance towards the European Union at a similar pace. This is why it is all the more important for Kosovo to make the right choices: choices that reflect the will and wellbeing of the population and choices that are in line with our shared values. 

To conclude, I propose that we raise a glass. Let us raise a glass to promoting and defending our fundamental values: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and human rights. Let us raise a glass to a strong, peaceful and prosperous European Union. And finally, let us also raise a glass to Kosovo’s future in the European family. 

Happy Europe Day! Gëzuar Ditën e Evropës! Srećan Dan Evrope!

Thank you.