April 12, 2021 | Monday

Ambassador Szunyog’s Message on the 5th Anniversary of the SAA

Dear friends and partners, fellow Europeans,

5 years ago the EU-Kosovo Stabilisation and Association Agreement entered into force. When it was signed it was hailed as a milestone for Kosovo and the region. It created a contractual framework for EU-Kosovo relations to deepen and develop and allowed Kosovo to join the rest of the region in sharing the benefits of deepening political and economic interdependence. It is also a key building block towards a goal set in 2003 in Thessaloniki, a clear perspective for all the Western Balkan countries to become members of the European Union.

The Agreement helps establish a stable legal framework and gradual approximation with EU laws and standards. It expands and anchors structural political and policy dialogue covering everything from the environment to financial services to education. These institutional mechanisms of the SAA prioritize reforms, shape them according to the best EU practice, help resolve problems and provide an appropriate framework for political dialogue and guidance for and monitoring of the SAA’s implementation.

The SAA with its 598 pages, X titles, 7 Annexes and 5 protocols is a comprehensive free trade agreement, but it is also much more. Those pages contain concrete instruments to further improve the economy, create jobs, fight corruption, strengthen democracy and rule of law, and increase political and institutional stability. This is what makes it more than a milestone, a box to tick towards the ultimate goal of EU membership. It is the foundation for Kosovo’s European integration process. It creates the blueprint to liberalize and expand the opportunities for trade and investment with all EU Member States, it anchors good governance and respect for democracy and human rights in our joint relations.

For Kosovo businesses, it means that the EU market of 440 million consumers is open for them to export their products, and increased choice and lower prices for Kosovars and anyone visiting this corner of our continent. And Kosovo businesses are increasingly finding a foothold in the wider European market. Exports are increasing.

The SAA however itself does not ‘give’ these things to Kosovo. The SAA is what you make of it. It is for Kosovo to seize the opportunities offered by this agreement, to provide confidence for European investors in the stability and credibility of Kosovo as a place of investment and market opportunities. It is important to put in place the economic policies, rule of law guarantees and standards necessary for attracting investments and increasing the quality of local products to be competitive in the EU single market.

In order to prioritize the reforms expected as part of the SAA implementation, Kosovo and the EU have set up in 2016 the European Reform Agenda (ERA) process. Since then, the ERA has become the key guidance tool for Kosovo institutions on EU-related reforms. In October last year, the EU and Kosovo launched the second phase of the agenda focusing on good governance and the rule of law, on competitiveness, investment and sustainable development and the key sectors of employment, education and health. Importantly, ERA has always been conceived as an agenda, which enjoys wide, cross-party support in Kosovo, since it is about Kosovo’s strategic objective of EU integration. We encourage the new government to take ownership of this process and use it as a powerful tool to advance reforms, which are in the interest of Kosovo citizens.

Determined efforts continue to be needed to ensure that Kosovo remains on track in fulfilling the SAA commitments where deadlines agreed in the agreement are quickly approaching. This includes areas such as intellectual property rights, including protection of geographical indications, competition, right of establishment and freedom to provide services, which guarantees the rights of businesses to establish on the territory of Kosovo and trade according to the same conditions as locally owned businesses and individuals, including as regards real property ownership.

The rule of law is at the core of the SAA and we know that this represents one of the greatest challenges for Kosovo and the region. Questions remain over the independence of the judiciary, corruption and organised crime, usurpation of property and a lack of transparency of certain economic and regulatory decision-making processes. It is imperative to provide investors in Kosovo’s economy, businesses and infrastructure the adequate protection from the corrosive elements of corruption.

The commitments undertaken under the SAA also include the commitment to normalisation of relations with Serbia. The EU-facilitated Dialogue with Belgrade remains the most important political process in the region aimed at comprehensive normalisation of relations. It has produced good results for Kosovo, including for instance enabling free trade flows and people movement, participation in regional fora, strengthening rule of law institutions and customs revenue collection.

The EU integration process is not easy, difficult at times but the effort is worth it and truly transformative. The more Kosovo implement the SAA, the closer their standards will be to those in the EU member states, the more Kosovo will benefit. For Kosovo, success in SAA implementation brings Kosovo closer to the EU, sharing in the common European perspective that makes peace, stability and prosperity our joint goal.

Having just witnessed another peaceful transfer of power between political rivals, Kosovo is showing itself more mature than 5 years ago. Time to make it count. The EU remains the partner at your side.

Ambassador Tomas Szunyog

Head of EU Office and EU Special Representative for Kosovo