IBNA Interview: Reconciliation between Balkan countries helps Euro-Atlantic integration

IBNA Interview: Reconciliation between Balkan countries helps Euro-Atlantic integration

Interviewed by Muhamer Mellova

IBNA: How do you assess the negotiation process between Kosovo-Serbia?

This week UNESCO rejection again underlines the ongoing political blockade of Kosovo by Serbia, which impacts its access to international organisations. Serbia’s actions vis-a-vis Kosovo’s UNESCO bid and the reaction of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic were not in good spirit. Serbia displayed a high level of hatred. If they want the heritage to be preserved they should ask for Kosovo’s membership of the UNESCO because only in this way their heritage will be protected.

I suggest that Kosovo should ask for the implementation of agreements reached so far in the dialogue with Belgrade. The in UNESCO has put into question on how this dialogue should continue. I will try to speak with HRVP Federica Mogherini to see how to make Serbia not to impede Kosovo’s integration processes.

Because the European Commission cannot simply look on and tolerate this systematic breach of the principle of good neighbourly and international relations; instead, it must demand that Serbia respects the existing agreements. Without the implementation of the conclusions of the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, it is not opportune to open negotiating chapters or make any further concessions to Serbia under the EU accession process.

IBNA: Is it possible for reconciliation to happen between the Balkan nations in the near future, something also required by Brussels in terms of good relations between neighboring countries?

„It takes two to tango“ – the phrase was reported widely in the international media when Ronald Reagan quipped about Russian-American relations during a 1982 presidential news conference. Since that time, the tango metaphor is used regularly to describe any situation in which the two partners are by definition understood to be essential like it is in the reconciliation and enlargement process. Reconciliation and EU enlargement remains in the interest of both the European Union and the candidate countries. I maintain that bilateral disputes should never be misused as leverage to block a country’s progress in its path towards the EU. My and the goal of the European Union is to have all Western Balkans countries join in. And I know: The normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina cannot be achieved in a day, and setbacks like now are always expectable, but we have to continue ambitiously.

IBNA: How is Kosovo advancing with the process of Euro-Atlantic integration? Is this going to be a long journey for the new state?

Despite many challenges still ahead of Kosovo, there are reasons for optimism. With the expected ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement by the European Parliament early next year, we will get a powerful vehicle for policy dialogue, reforms, and concrete change for the better for the people in Kosovo. The focus should now be on building a track record in implementing the Agreement.

This week Commission report also concluded that Kosovo has made further progress.

But the EU progress report has been considerably overshadowed by the narrow rejection of Kosovo’s bid for UNESCO membership. The UNESCO rejection is a major setback for efforts to secure recognition of the young state. It also weakens last month’s conclusion of an EU Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the successful steps towards visa liberalisation. I am concerned over this knowing that five member states have not recognized Kosovo and even some countries which have recognized Kosovo voted against and I find this unacceptable. This is a step backwards for the European Union because it showed that we are not united on such matters.

It is now all the more important that efforts are redoubled to progress the EU accession process. To this end, the government in Kosovo must step up moves towards justice sector reform and the fight against corruption.

And the EU progress report makes justified criticism of intensifying situation with the Association of Serbian Municipalities. Tear gas and violence are not conducive to political dialogue. This must end and opposition and government politicians must work constructively on a solution in the interest of Kosovo’s citizens.

IBNA: How is FYROM advancing with Euro-Atlantic Integration? Is it going to be a long journey, judging by the fact that its name is contested by neighboring countries?

First of all: It is highly embarrassing that for so many years in a row, the Commission has had to recommend opening of negotiations with Macedonia, because the Greek government continues to block this in Council. A solution to the name issue must be found, but this has nothing to do with the accession process. Meanwhile, the support for reform in Macedonia is dwindling. Citizens are getting fed up. I support more pressure of the EU on Greece to bring a fast and good end to this issue.

Concerning the political criteria inside Macedonia this ongoing crisis has underlined the need for parliament to substantially improve its performance as a forum for constructive political dialogue and representation, as well as its legislative and oversight functions. This needs to include credible functional oversight of the work of the intelligence services and the capacity to monitor the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country. The absence of the main opposition party diminished the quality of reforms and hindered the operation of checks and balances.

Although some progress was made, civil society organisations have continued to express serious concerns about the difficult climate in which they operate. During the political crisis of this year, CSOs often played a constructive role by organising numerous peaceful protests across ethnic lines, and demanding greater accountability of politicians. Civil society also demonstrated cross-ethnic unity in the aftermath of the tragic Kumanovo events of spring 2015.The national authorities therefore have to involve civil society in policy-making and legislation in a more regular and effective manner.

Corruption also remains widespread. The country should demonstrate real political will in the fight against corruption in the form of autonomous and effective measures by law enforcement and supervisory bodies, notably the State Commission for Prevention of Corruption, increasing the visibility of anti-corruption measures and creating an effective framework for the protection of whistle-blowers, in line with European standards and best practices.

And some words regarding freedom of expression. Nevertheless some efforts have been taken the freedom of expression and the media remains a serious challenge in the current media culture and political climate. The country continued to backslide over the past year. Therefore it is a strong need to ensure full transparency on government advertising that the public has access to objective and accurate reporting and a variety of viewpoints through the mainstream media, particularly the public service broadcaster.

And a very last word to the recent asylum-flows, which increased dramatically this year, creating a substantial burden on the country’s asylum and migration framework.The ever-growing number of migrants and refugees taking the Balkan route is a consequence of a broader failure of EU migration and asylum policy on which Serbia and Macedonia have no control. Placing the primary responsibility for processing asylum applications on the first EU country of entry (with the Dublin regulation) and limiting safe and legal avenues of entry has put an unsustainable strain on the EU’s outer fringes and neighbouring states. Therefore I agree completely with Amnesty International-resumee: „Serbia and Macedonia have to do much more to respect migrants and refugees’ rights. But it is impossible to separate the human rights violations there from the broader pressures of the flow of migrants and refugees into and through the EU, and a failed EU migration system.“

IBNA: What will be the fate of northern Kosovo?

Lunacek: Northern Kosovo have to become a fully integrated part of the Republic of Kosovo with, according to the Kosovo constitution, having broad autonomy, as Serbs in the South of Kosovo already enjoy. The government in Prishtina still needs to do more to reach out toSerbs in the North and win them over, but even more so Serbia needs to support this integration of Serbs in the North of Kosovo instead of jeopardize this process.

The current situation in northern Kosovo shows some progress but efforts from all sides are still needed. And of course all agreements reached between Belgrade and Pristina must continue to be implemented and there is a need for constructively engagement on all issues, with the facilitation of the EU.