March 23, 2016 | Wednesday

The Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA): Entry into force of the agreement, benefits and next steps

Written by Bekim Ҫollaku
Minister of European Integration

The Stabilization and Association Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Kosovo will enter into force in a few days, namely on 1 April. We, together with our co-signatory Commissioner Hahn, are looking forward to organizing an event this month to mark this joint achievement.

This agreement is the culmination of Kosovo’s institutions’ efforts and commitment to the European agenda for more than a decade and a half, and at the same time it represents a new beginning that accelerates and strengthens the process of European Union Integration with a view to accede to the European Union. As of 1 April 2016 onwards, the fate of Kosovo and the European Union will be linked closer than ever before, and this is a good thing for both sides.

In June 1999, when Kosovo emerged from a bloody war that eventually brought freedom, a new perspective opened up to us. The European Union launched its policy for the Western Balkans, namely the Stabilisation and Association Process. This process was founded with the idea that one day the Western Balkan countries would join the EU. Stabilisation and Association Agreements were the main instrument of this process. To make a long story short, it took 14 full years for the Stabilisation and Association Process to finally reach Kosovo, enabling the commencement of negotiations in October 2013 between us and the European Union for the conclusion of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The long delay attributed to political circumstances and considerations. On 27 October 2015, the Prime Minister of Kosovo Isa Mustafa and I signed the first contractual agreement between the EU and Kosovo. Since then, this agreement has received the consent of the European Parliament and has been ratified by the Assembly of Kosovo.

Despite the great importance that this Agreement holds and the many benefits it will bring to Kosovo citizens, it has not been easy to communicate these benefits in an effective way. The benefits are portrayed as elusive or intangible. However, on the contrary, the SAA will bring several tangible political, economic and legal benefits that will improve our institutions and the business environment and ultimately the wellbeing of all citizens.

Politically, the SAA formalises the relations between the EU and Kosovo and makes rights and obligations enforceable by contract. On the one hand, Kosovo undertakes to implement a more ambitious agenda of reforms, aimed at improving the political, economic and social development of our country, and on the other, the EU commits to extend to Kosovo all the instruments, including financial, at its disposal aimed at achieving the implementation of these reforms so that Kosovo can fulfil the criteria for accession. The common goal of both sides is to deepen the integration process of Kosovo and speed up its accession to the EU by incentivising necessary reforms that will help Kosovo fulfil the Copenhagen Criteria.

From an economic standpoint, the SAA strengthens the economic and trade relations between the EU and Kosovo by gradually creating a free trade area. This will provide citizens and businesses access to high-quality products at affordable prices. It will allow duty-relief export of local products in a market with over 500 million consumers. The closer integration of Kosovo’s economy with the single market of the EU will have a positive impact on attracting foreign investment. Additionally, the SAA will provide technical and financial support for economic reforms in Kosovo that will lead to stregnthening a functioning market economy that is able to withstand the competitive pressures of the EU market.

The entry into force also means new obligations. During the year, Kosovo institutions should undertake numerous actions in implementing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The government has foreseen all these actions through the National Programme for the Implementation of the SAA, which was recently adopted by the Assembly of Kosovo. This programme is a key national policy document for EU accession and its primary purpose is the fulfilment of the SAA obligations within the deadlines set forth in the agreement.

A great amount of work lies ahead of us this year and in the coming years to implement this programme. Satisfactory implementation of the SAA within the first three years will bring Kosovo the opportunity to make the next step in its integration path, which is the application for the status of candidate country for EU accession.