EU Council demands Kosovo to lift tariffs and fight corruption

EU Council demands Kosovo to lift tariffs and fight corruption

EU Council of Ministers has called on Kosovo to remove tariffs on Serb goods, resume talks with Serbia and fight corruption.

These were part of the conclusions of the Council of the European Union, which on Tuesday discussed in Luxembourg the issue of the enlargement of the bloc.

Full report:

The Council reiterates the importance of the continued implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo. This EU-only agreement, which is without prejudice to Member States’ positions on status, provides the contractual framework between the EU and Kosovo. It offers Kosovo an opportunity for sustainable progress and rapprochement with the Union, in line with the European perspective of the region, and creates trade and investment opportunities. The Council acknowledges the progress made in implementing the European Reform Agenda and calls for the swift implementation of outstanding measures. It calls on all political actors to urgently put the focus back on reforms and advance Kosovo’s European agenda for the benefit of the people.

The Council deeply regrets the decisions by the government to impose unilateral tariff increases of up to 100% on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in November 2018, in violation of Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) obligations and of the spirit of the SAA, as well as the imposition of non-tariff barriers. The Council reiterates that these decisions undermine regional cooperation, including the Regional Economic Area, and must be immediately revoked.

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The Council welcomes the adoption of important laws in the area of rule of law and public administration reform and urges Kosovo to effectively implement this legislation.

Corruption and organised crime need to be resolutely addressed. The Council remains concerned about political interference and non-merit based recruitments and regrets appointments of people convicted for war crimes to official positions which are contrary to European values.

The Council reiterates the importance of addressing long-standing weaknesses of the electoral process in Kosovo, guided by the recommendations of previous EU election

observation missions. The extraordinary mayoral elections of 19 May 2019 showed that shortcomings remain, including pre-election activities which limited the opportunity for full democratic participation in the elections.

The Council notes with concern that overall the situation in the north of Kosovo continues to pose particular challenges in the areas of organised crime, corruption and freedom of expression.

Effective promotion and protection of human rights throughout Kosovo needs to be

reinforced, including the full protection of cultural and religious heritage. The inclusion and protection of persons belonging to minorities and of Roma, including additional efforts to implement the existing legal framework and to ensure a safe environment and safeguarding of

their property rights should be addressed, as well as the strengthening of social cohesion. The Council notes further progress in fighting radicalisation, extremism and terrorism. Additional efforts are needed in addressing the financing of terrorism, as well as rehabilitation and reintegration. In this context, the Council particularly underlines the need for effective

and intense regional and international cooperation, including with Europol and Eurojust, with full respect to their regulation and without prejudice to Member States’ positions on status.

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In line with the Joint Conclusions of the Economic and Financial Dialogue, the Council calls on Kosovo to take the necessary measures to adhere to the fiscal rules, to increase efforts to combat the informal economy, to actively address the high unemployment, in particular youth and women unemployment, to invest more in education, as well as to tap renewable and energy saving potentials.

The Council urges continued commitment by Kosovo to the Specialist Chambers, in full compliance with its international obligations and its own legal order, and as a way to demonstrate genuine efforts to guarantee the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, justice and reconciliation. The existing legal framework enables the proper investigation and prosecution of all alleged war crimes.

The Council urges Kosovo to continue to cooperate closely and effectively with EULEX. In particular, the Council expects that the criminal/civil cases handed over by EULEX to the competent judicial authorities in Kosovo are properly followed up.

On the EU-facilitated Dialogue with Belgrade, Pristina needs to make further substantial efforts and contribute to the establishment of a conducive environment, as well as refrain from any act that can be perceived as provocation. The Council stresses that the current status quo is not sustainable. It is essential that the Dialogue restarts as soon as possible. A comprehensive legally binding agreement needs to address all outstanding issues in accordance with international law and EU acquis and contribute to regional stability. The conclusion without further delay of such an agreement, under the facilitation of the High Representative, is crucial so that Kosovo and Serbia can advance on their respective European paths. The Council reiterates that all past agreements concluded under the EU-facilitated Dialogue need to be implemented. The Council welcomes, in this respect, the further consolidation of the Justice agreement and the full implementation of the telecoms agreement.

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The Council however regrets that no progress has been made in the long-standing commitment to implement past Dialogue agreements, including preparing the draft statute of the Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo, full implementation of the IBM agreement as well as decisively implementing the Energy agreement. The Council also regrets that the Mitrovica Bridge has not yet been opened to all traffic, in spite of the completion of the renovation works.

The Council recalls that progress in the normalisation of relations with Serbia is an essential principle of the SAA and underpins the development of relations and cooperation between the EU and Kosovo.

The Council recognises the importance of visa liberalisation for Kosovo citizens. The

Commission made a formal proposal in May 2016 to transfer Kosovo to the Schengen visafree list and presented a report in July 2018 on the fulfilment of the remaining benchmarks. In March 2019 the European Parliament supported the Commission’s proposal in its first reading. The decision on the proposal is currently under consideration in the Council.