Europe’s institutions are the best way to ensure a fairer and greener Kosovo, while an EU ready to show leadership in the dialogue is the surest path to stability, says the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Kosovo Viola von Cramon.
On 9 May we celebrate Europe Day, the birthday of the EU and the anniversary of French foreign minister Robert Schuman’s declaration in 1950 that French and West German coal and steel production should be placed under a common authority.
The day is widely observed throughout the continent, but it is a public holiday only in one country, one which is not yet a member of the European Union but is still very much part of Europe: Kosovo.
Kosovo’s promise to create a prosperous, democratic, stable country for its people still has a long way to go. However, one must also acknowledge the long journey the country has undergone over the past decade, especially following its declaration of independence in 2008.
Being an ally to the EU can help the country move further down this road, and the overwhelming majority of people in Kosovo want the state to achieve EU membership. Kosovo’s past is in Europe, its present is in Europe, and its future should be too.
The EU’s enormous legislative burden is not easy to adopt. However, the EU can be proud of a number of areas of legislation, which have often been used as models in other countries, and provide world class protections of labour rights and animal welfare, among other areas.
Adopting these reforms often carries with it high social and economic costs, but the benefits of EU membership are clear. It is the promise of Europe that has a transformative power, but it is only the EU’s institutions that can ensure its associate counties and member states are accountable and achieve this promise.
This is a job that Europe’s institutions need to work at every single day, because all too often there are governments, both inside and outside of the Union, not willing to play by the rules, who want to enjoy the benefits of EU membership without paying the costs. Failing to enforce European legislation results in state institutions putting on a facade, one that does not provide the benefits of EU membership to its citizens.
Sometimes, these reforms are not enacted because of the EU’s weak institutional frameworks. In the case of air quality, every state in the Western Balkans has signed the Energy Community treaty, yet basically none of them follow the regulations they have committed to.
In cases like these, the EU needs to change its institutional framework in order to make it possible to impose fines on candidate countries that do not comply with the rules. The EU needs to use its sticks better when it comes to working with states in the Western Balkans, not only the carrots.
The EU also needs to keep its end of the bargain, and a lack of political will from certain member states has often caused harm to the Union’s reputation and credibility. Citizens of Kosovo know all too well the saga of visa liberalisation, and not fulfilling our promises in this regard is a disgrace.
Kosovo has done its homework. You have been waiting for two years for us to deliver on visa liberalisation. I understand what is at stake: If the EU breaks this promise, how can I guarantee that we will not break the next one?
As for the long-standing issue with Serbia, again it is the EU which can bring stability and peace in the long run. The EU began life as a project to ensure peace on the continent following the Second World War, and fundamentally continues to be a project of peace between nations.
Long term stability and long term peace on our continent is not possible without stability and peace in the Balkans. However, regional stability is only meaningful if it serves the people living in these countries. This requires compromises from both sides and it will be achieved only if the many initial, sometimes very small, steps are taken.
We must solve the question of recognition of Kosovo, and it is the promise of the EU membership, and its sticks and carrots, that incentivise these talks. If both Serbia and Kosovo claim that they want to join the EU, they must make steps down this road. If their political leaders abandon this route, they are abandoning the future the majority of their citizens wish to achieve.
On our part, it is not enough for the EU just to listen and facilitate the dialogue. We need to take the initiative and make the Union’s position and interests clear. Mediation in this process is not enough, right now the EU needs to show leadership in the Western Balkans.
For a successful dialogue, which is the interest of Belgrade, Prishtina and Brussels, the rules need to be set out in advance. We have to draw red lines too: We do not accept a land-swap as part of any peace deal between Kosovo and Serbia.
The role of the United States is also still crucial in the region. Its military power can be a guarantee for stability, and we can only hope that the White House is aware of the responsibility it has.
The US’ economic power is also far from negligible, and Kosovo needs them as an ally. But the people of Kosovo are not seeking to join the US as a 51st state. They want to join the EU.
Life in EU member states is not always bright and shiny, and the institutions of the European Union are not perfect at all. In fact, decision-making is usually slow and overly complicated.
However, the EU has delivered on many of its promises to its citizens in the past, and if we look back to the day of Schuman’s declaration, we have achieved a lot since. If Kosovo continues in its commitment to the EU, I hope we can help to realise the promise of a prosperous and democratic Kosovo, expectations that can only be met by the EU.
Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, Member of the European Parliament in the Greens/EFA Group since 2019. She is the standing rapporteur for Kosovo in the European Parliament, previously the Chief Observer of the EU’s Election Observation Mission for the early parliamentary elections in October 2019 in Kosovo. Von Cramon was member of the German Bundestag (2009-2013) and she has been working in development projects in Eastern Europe for over twenty years.
The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.