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Kosovo will always exist as a state

In an interview for the agency specializing in EU policy news, EurActiv, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo, Enver Hoxhaj, stated that normalizing relations between the Republic of Kosovo and Serbia means that Serbia must accept the reality of an independent Kosovo, that Serbia sees Kosovo as a partner and neighboring state, and that the two states share the same target of integration in the European Union. Without these preconditions it is not possible to talk of normalizing relations.

Recently, a KFOR soldier in a serious medical condition was returned to Austria. How long do you think KFOR will stay?

We believe that it is very important to stabilize the four municipalities in the north of Kosovo. KFOR soldiers are giving a very valuable contribution. We are extremely grateful for how they have supported us in the last 13 years. Their presence in the four municipalities of the north is needed for longer, so that the situation there remains stable. If, in the next few months, we manage to integrate these municipalities into the other part of Kosovo, then we can think about when NATO troops can leave Kosovo. Their presence is essential for security. It is not just Kosovo’s stability, but the entire security architecture and stability of the Balkans which depends on the four municipalities.

Dialogue with Serbia

In the website of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the section providing information about states, it still calls on German citizens not to travel to the north of Kosovo and to avoid border crossings. For how long will such warnings be necessary?

We are interested, through dialogue with Serb representatives, to integrate these municipalities. We will do the same thing in the northern part of the country, as we have done over the last five years with the Serb minority of Kosovo. We will implement the Ahtisaari Plan there as well, which has transformed Kosovo into a democratic and multi-ethnic state. Today, Kosovo is a stable country, which is developing economically. But, this is the last moment to integrate these municipalities. In the last thirteen years, citizens who live in those municipalities have not had the opportunity to participate in institutions and democratic elections. There is no rule of law there, and we believe that after the start of dialogue in the autumn, this situation will change.

How are dialogue over the north and neighborly relations going with the new Government of Serbia? What has changed with the new Government?

Between 2011 and 2012 nine rounds of technical dialogue between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia were held in Brussels. The dialogue was supported and facilitated by the European Union. In these nine rounds, seven agreements were reached. These agreements aimed to improve the lives of citizens in the two states. Some of these agreements are being implemented, and others not. The Government of Serbia has no intention and will to implement them. Naturally, we are interested in continuing dialogue, but there will be no meeting in Brussels until Serbia implements all the agreements.

Dialogue at two levels

A deadline has been set, according to which dialogue starts in September. Preparations continue. What can be expected from this dialogue?

There must be two levels of dialogue. First, a dialogue which aims to integrate the communities in the north with the rest of Kosovo, and to implement the Ahtisaari Plan and integrate them in state structures of the Republic of Kosovo. For this to happen, the security structures and paramilitary groups that Serbia maintains in the north must be dismantled. This is the first precondition. Naturally, we are also ready to talk about a socio-economic development agenda for these municipalities, because the economy plays a very important role in their integration. The second level relates to the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. For us, a priority remains the normalization of relations with the Republic of Serbia. Kosovo will always exist as a state in the Balkans and in Europe. The normalization of relations means that Serbia must accept the reality of an independent Kosovo, that Serbia sees Kosovo as a partner and neighboring state, and that the two states share the same target of integration and membership in the European Union. A very important precondition for this is that Serbia recognizes the sovereign and independent state of Kosovo. This act will end once and for all the historic conflict. Dialogue will occur to address these topics.

Agreements that remain only on paper are invalid

Do you think that conditions/agreements regarding the north have been implemented? Edita Tahiri has complained that Brussels is not respecting the agreements?

It is high time that the agreements reached in dialogue between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia do not remain just on paper, but be implemented. If not, they are invalid. Brussels should exercise pressure on Serbia, so that the agreements are implemented, because only through them can the lives of citizens be improved. Only like this can the citizens of both countries benefit from dialogue. For us, it is important that the agreement on regional cooperation and membership be implemented, and that the agreement on integrated border management, be first signed by the Government of Serbia and then implemented. The implementation of these agreements is a precondition for continuing technical dialogue in Brussels. Without their implementation, there will be no meetings in Brussels. The position of my Government on this point is crystal clear.

Meanwhile, Serbs are insisting that Kosovo representatives not use state symbols. What do you say about this?

All agreements which were reached between March 2011 and 2012 are bilateral agreements between two states. They are a legal framework, to resolve specific problems between two independent states. The agreement on regional cooperation makes possible the participation of the Republic of Kosovo in all regional and European forums in its own name. This agreement makes it possible for us to sign multilateral agreements. This means that Kosovo is treated as a state, as an equal partner with other states. Therefore, it is very important to implement the agreements, because otherwise the credibility of the entire process is in question. The EU must exercise pressure on Serbia because it is the institution which has supported and facilitated the process.

Meeting with Baroness Catherine Ashton

Kosovo representatives will meet with Baroness Catherine Ashton. Who will participate in the meeting? And what do you expect from this meeting?

Up to now, there is no agenda. What I can say is this: the Plan for the northern municipalities, which the European Union requested in the last Progress Report, is now ready. We would like to discuss this plan with citizens in the north, to find a solution, which is in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo and with the Ahtisaari Plan. At the same time, we are trying to build normal relations as two independent states, with Serbia, just as Kosovo has with other neighboring states. The dialogue process should address these two areas.

Isn’t the European Union too focused on the Euro crisis and debt, and as a result, lacks the capacity for the Western Balkans?

Despite the economic and debt crisis, the European Union must pay more attention to the Western Balkans. In the path toward European integration, Croatia has set a good example and has created very important momentum in the Balkans. This shows that states, elites and governments are very motivated to speed up the European path, undertaking different reforms. If seen from the global perspective, the EU is the institution which has most assisted the Balkans. To this end, there is progress: From seven states of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia and Croatia have joined the European Union. I think that other states like Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia should have the same future. Naturally, it is clear for us that European integration does not dependent on the external factor, but also the dynamic within states. However, more attention, initiative and support are required. All Balkan states cannot exist without a European perspective, without reforms, and without the integration process.

The five states which have not recognized Kosovo do not represent a block

There are still five states in the EU which have not recognized Kosovo’s independence. Recently, information came from Austria that the position of Slovakia is shifting. Do you have any concrete hopes that Slovakia could be the first of these five states to recognize Kosovo?

These five states, which have still not recognized Kosovo, do not constitute a group or block against Kosovo’s independence. The process of recognizing Kosovo’s independence is unstoppable. Recognition has a global geography; there are many states in the world which have now recognized Kosovo’s independence. Each month, there are new states which take decisions about recognizing Kosovo. Naturally, the overwhelming majority of member states of the European Union have recognized the Republic of Kosovo. There are different reasons why these states have not recognized the Republic of Kosovo. Their main reason for a long time was respecting international law. With regard to international law, as we know, in June 2010, the International Court of Justice of the United Nations took a decision, which very clearly stated that Kosovo’s independence is in accordance with international law and that we did not violate international law.

Third, these states have no political or legal reason to delay recognizing Kosovo. As a Government, we have very good relations and institutional cooperation with these states. We are grateful that all these states are for Kosovo’s integration in the European Union. Some of them have taken very difficult decisions about Kosovo’s membership in political and economic organizations or have accepted the passport of the Republic of Kosovo.

The new Serbian Government enjoys very little credit in the west. Could this be indirectly useful for Kosovo?

Kosovo is a sovereign and independent state. What occurs in Serbia has no effect on Kosovo internally or internationally. As a Government, we are very active. Kosovo is represented in the entire world; we offer services for citizens all over the world through our embassies. But the new Government in Serbia personifies a very bitter past. A government with such personalities, without doubt is a step backwards, after the end of the Milosevic regime. The change of Government in Serbia does not bode well for a democratic Serbia and the citizens of Slovenia, Bosnia and Kosovo know best what an anti-democratic Serbia means. But this is the choice of the Serbian people. We will not measure the Serbian Government with modern rhetorical words, but with its actions.

Thanks for German initiatives

The Government of Germany is on the edge of parliamentary elections. Does this present a problem?
Hoxhaj: Germany is a very important partner for Kosovo and for all Western Balkan states. Germany has done much to build institutions, on an economic basis, to modernize Kosovo society. We are very grateful for the steps and political initiatives that Chancellor Merkel and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Guido Westerwelle have undertaken for Kosovo and other Balkan states. I think that Germany’s weight in Europe and the world is very great and hence it is greatly appreciated in Kosovo and the Western Balkans. Besides the very good relations between the Republic of Kosovo and Germany, Berlin is very important for Kosovo’s economic development and European integration. Berlin is a very important address for us.

... Austria is also committed to the region

Do you feel sufficiently represented by Austria as well?

Austria understands Kosovo and the Balkans and through geography and history, it has created a special feeling about the region. Austria has always sensed, read and evaluated developments correctly here. Above all, with regard to Kosovo, Austria has placed a very important role in Kosovo’s independence. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michael Spindelegger is a major advocate of Kosovo’s integration in the European Union. I think that besides Germany and Austria, other European states should have a united position regarding the Balkans. All European Union member states know that Kosovars, historically, geographically and culturally, have always been a European people, and we are carved from the same wood. And, in the short and long-term, the EU constitutes the only framework for political stability, economic development and social modernization.

In September, the supervision of Kosovo’s independence ends. What do you anticipate in this new period?

This is a new period for Kosovo’s statehood and shows that Kosovo in the last five years, as an independent state, has implemented all obligations deriving from the Ahtisaari Plan. We have not just built a state from the foundations, but also an economy, education system, culture, and we have reformed other areas. Our society through this process of transformation has changed a lot. Today, Kosovo is a multi-ethnic and democratic state. The economy is also developing well. While all of Europe talks about the financial crisis and debt, we have maintained financial stability and we do not have debt. Economic growth of 5% is twice the economic growth before Kosovo’s independence. But, the conclusion of international supervision of independence will change also the nature of statehood. This means that Kosovo is taking on more and more sovereign responsibility. Our focus will be on the European Union. If you compare the implementation of international obligations with other states in the region, where there were agreements, then it can be said that state-building in Kosovo is a success story of Kosovo’s citizens and Euro-Atlantic partners.

Yet the opposition criticizes that with the presence of UNMIK, EULEX and KFOR full independence has not been gained...

The International Civilian Office (ICO), which had the duty to supervise Kosovo’s independence, will finish its mission in September. With regard to EULEX, Kosovo as a sovereign state has the right to invite a mission to support it in specific areas. We are defining the mission and function of EULEX. There will be an exchange of letters between President Atifete Jahjaga and Baroness Catherine Ashton, on which occasion the mandate of EULEX will be defined. With regard to a deadline, EULEX will stay until 2014 in Kosovo. Until then, EULEX will help Kosovo in rule of law. This is in our interest.

As part of the conclusion of the supervision of independence, a series of activities will be organized, in which Martti Ahtisaari, Wolfgang Ischinger and Frank Wisner will participate. What is the character of these activities?

  In September, a conference will be organized regarding the conclusion of supervised independence in Kosovo. Representatives from 25 states will participate, which in the last five years have helped Kosovo greatly to implement the Ahtisaari Plan and to build a state from the foundations. There will be a plenary session, in which Martti Ahtisaari, Frank Wisner and Wolfgang Ischinger, who played such an important role in the negotiations, will make speeches to the deputies. There will be other activities as well. There will be a conference, which the prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, and foreign ministers of different world countries will attend.

We will try to show the world that in Kosovo in the last five years much great progress has been made and Kosovo is a European state and European integration is its only agenda.

(“Epoka e re”)

Interview du ministre Enver Hoxhaj pour "Epoken e Re"La Serbie plus agressive envers le Kosovo