Reflecting on the achievements of 2023 and making resolutions for 2024, I am proud that the first thing to celebrate this New Year is the long-awaited visa liberalisation for Kosovo. As of today, the holders of Kosovo passports will be able to travel to the Schengen area for short-term stays without having to apply for a visa.
I am very happy to celebrate this significant milestone together with you. It is the result of years of a joint hard work between Kosovo’s institutions, governments, EU institutions, EU Member States, civil society, media, and others. This visa liberalisation decision shows that Kosovo has the capacity to enjoy this right and to take the responsibility for it.
This decision is truly important.
Firstly, it is a recognition of the hard work that Kosovo has done and a token of appreciation towards the society, which is so supportive of the EU integration.
Secondly, it is an invitation to explore Europe: we want to get to know you better, and we want you to get to know us better. Kosovo and its people has been a great host to us for many years. It is now our turn to welcome you. You may now explore new cities, pay a visit to relatives and friends, attend music concerts and football games, liaise with the academia, learn languages abroad, network with artists, participate in culture fairs, conferences and meetings, and more. In short, you will be able to better know, feel, taste the EU, and explore the diversity that unites us. Use this opportunity wisely, for your personal, academic and professional development. The visa free travel aims to boost tourism, facilitate business transactions, and foster educational and cultural ties between us. This decision will bring economic, educational, social and cultural benefits to both: Kosovo and the EU.
Finally, visa liberalisation will bring Kosovo closer to the EU: it is an essential step in the enlargement process; process, in which Kosovo gradually fulfils political and economic conditions to join the EU. With this process, we are preparing the ground for future membership and bringing concrete benefits to citizens already now.
The enlargement process has gained a new momentum in 2023. In a rapidly changing geopolitical environment, the EU is ready to rise to the occasion and bring the aspiring members even closer. There is a firm prospect of EU membership for the Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, as the European Council confirmed with recent decisions.
We have just concluded the EU-Western Balkans Summit. This was the fourth summit of its kind in four years. It shows the desire to give more strength and power to the relationship between the EU and the Western Balkans. The summit reaffirmed the EU membership perspective of Western Balkans and made it clear that partners need to accelerate the reforms. Of course, this includes Kosovo. And let me be clear: your future is in the EU.
It is key that Kosovo continues to implement the necessary reforms and to make tangible and sustainable progress. This reform process is not only about joining the EU; more importantly, it is about implementing democratic and economic reforms for a better Kosovo.
What does it mean in practice? It means that the public institutions should continue to implement reforms that improve the lives of all the people in Kosovo: to transform anxiety and uncertainty about the future into excitement and hope. For this to happen, Kosovo needs to achieve more; it has the potential to do so. Here is why I believe so.
- The Government is well suited to take strategic decisions and accelerate the reforms: it is the last year before the elections to deliver.
- In the Assembly, political parties proved that cooperation for the benefit of Kosovo is possible: it adopted the Law on general elections, Berlin Process agreements on freedom of movement, and laws that have an impact on the daily life: on product safety, sustainable investment, early childhood education, or cybersecurity. Every Member of the Parliament needs to focus on what is best for Kosovo and bring that spirit into 2024.
- The latest Kosovo Report, assessing how well Kosovo is prepared to join the EU, recognises steps taken on EU-related reforms. Yet, it also makes it clear that there are no shortcuts: Kosovo needs to implement more reforms.
- Kosovo adopted a National Programme for EU Integration. This might sound like a bureaucratic document; in fact, it is a list of actions, decisions and legislative steps that the government is planning to accomplish. The more Kosovo implements them, the closer it moved to the EU.
- Last December, Kosovo submitted an application for EU membership. It is an exceptional motivation to go ahead with concrete reforms to make the application stronger.
- Kosovo has clearly demonstrated its alignment with the EU when it comes to foreign policy and value choices. It continues to adopt packages of restrictive measures against Russia.
- Kosovo has adopted an ambitious new Energy Strategy, launched the first solar auction, and further invested in the energy efficiency of public and residential buildings. In this way, Kosovo has been taking steps towards realising its potential of becoming a hub for green energy.
- The Government has been focusing on the rule of law and the fight against corruption and organised crime. Last year, the Assembly adopted significant anti-corruption legislation. Once implemented, it might improve the fight against corruption. The Minister of Justice and the heads of the justice system institutions signed a Joint Commitment Statement and Action Plan on justice reforms. The reforms are key to restore the public trust in the justice system.
What is important to highlight here is that the European path of both Kosovo and Serbia goes through the EU-facilitated Dialogue and through the normalisation of their relations. The EU Member States expect Kosovo and Serbia to implement the Agreement on the path to normalisation and its Implementation Annex without delay or preconditions. This includes the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities.
And while the Agreement on the Path to Normalisation was clearly a positive development in 2023, the year we left behind was also marked by security crises, in particular in the north of Kosovo. In May, we witnessed violent acts against citizens, KFOR troops, law enforcement, and media, whereas in September we witnessed the violent attack against the Kosovo Police by heavily armed individuals. The repercussions of this attack continue to be felt not only in the north of Kosovo, but also across Kosovo and across the region. The EU expects the perpetrators to be apprehended and swiftly brought to justice and Serbia to fully cooperate and take all the necessary steps in this regard. The stabilization of the security situation on the ground should now be a priority. This should never happen again.
Indeed, Kosovo also faces challenges: but, the better Kosovo is prepared to join the EU, the better it is prepared to address and prevent them. This is the reason why Kosovo needs to accelerate on its EU path. It has the potential, the talent, and the commitment. With these, Kosovo has the chance to get closer to the EU faster than one might think.
It is up to Kosovo to seize opportunity so it can develop, grow and strive. For this to happen, it needs to put in place the economic policies, rule-of-law guarantees and standards necessary for attracting investment, to support the economic growth and regional integration. The process is long and complex, but the reward is worth it: more prosperity, security, peace, and stability.
In that spirit, I wish you and your loved ones a healthy, happy and hopeful new year. I hope you will have the opportunity to make use of the visa liberalisation this year and the years to come. The EU stands ready to help Kosovo to move closer to the EU and to use the opportunities the EU enlargement process offers: the membership perspective is more than a helping hand; it is a goal in itself. Yet, ultimately, it is the choice and responsibility of Kosovo. We have seen that Kosovo can do even better. And this is what I wish you for 2024.
Head of the EU Office/EU Special Representative in Kosovo