Delays by the European Union are an impediment to security in the western Balkans.

by Hashim Thaçi

The era of bloody inter-ethnic wars in the western Balkans ended in the last century; however, the prospect of a secure peace remains distant. There are many reasons why peace and stability remain so fragile in the western Balkans, in particular in Kosovo. That is why leaders who have experienced the terrible consequences of war must stand up and speak loudly: we need to ensure that we are not overtaken again by the inter-ethnic hatreds of the past. This is a pessimistic message, but it is not meant to cause panic; it is, rather, meant to serve as wake-up call for all of us and, in particular, for the EU.

Robert Schuman, a founding father of EU, stated in his famous declaration of 9 May 1950 said that “world peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it”. He also declared that “the contribution which an organised and living Europe can bring to civilisation is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations”. Since then, 62 years have passed, but Schuman’s remarks are still very relevant. The project he envisioned – what is now the EU – will succeed only if EU leaders stay firm in their intention to bring the remaining countries of the western Balkans into the EU family. Our place in this family is well deserved.
In recent years, there has been considerable success and progress in the western Balkans, in terms of democratic consolidation and economic development. This also applies to my country, Kosovo. Nonetheless, the mindset of the past is still present in some parts of the region. Our northern neighbour, Serbia, continues actively to undermine Kosovo’s statehood. In doing so, Serbia is questioning the existence of internationally recognised borders in Balkans. The idea that borders may yet be redrawn in the western Balkans represents the biggest threat to the region’s fragile stability.

Severe provocations

In recent weeks and months, Serbia has instigated several severe provocations against Kosovo. A recent terrorist attack on an ethnic-Albanian family in northern Kosovo caused the death of one person and injured several. Moreover, recent security developments in Macedonia underline how fragile the situation is in the entire region. This situation raises several questions.

Why is it that we are have not yet overcome instability and made Europe more secure? Do decision-makers in Brussels lack the will or the power to accelerate the EU integration process for the remaining western Balkan countries? Are decision-makers in the EU aware that by, dragging out this process, they are unintentionally helping to keep alive the Balkans’ conflict industry?

There are no easy answers. But it should be made clear to the people of the Balkans that the train they have embarked on – towards Brussels – is the right train. If that is not made clear, we will all be in trouble. If the EU continues to delay an acceleration of membership for its remaining would-be members in the western Balkans, it will directly undermine our efforts to build multi-ethnic societies. Furthermore, delays would fuel the aspirations of radicals to create mono-ethnic states. That could lead to a change of internationally recognised borders – the worst-case scenario.

I have no doubt that Kosovo’s rightful place is within the big EU family. For us, equal membership within the EU remains a roadmap of hope – not only for Kosovo, but also for other people in Balkans. We leaders need to make sure that our societies are developed based on the principles that served as the foundations on which Europe was built after the Second World War. We know how difficult and painful that process was. However, it has proven to be a successful model. We have no reason not to adopt it – and every hope that, using this model, we can build a better future which will prevent the bitter past being repeated. Moreover, Kosovars understand that it is not possible to become a member of big democratic families while obstructing the development of others. I am deeply convinced that the entire region will suffer if the EU thinks of closing its door to newcomers like us. This would be a serious mistake.

I understand the constraints and the difficulties faced by the leaders of EU member states and of the EU’s institutions. I understand their hesitations and that the art of reaching consensual decisions entails complicated procedures. Above all, we understand that the EU demands of us that we reach European standards in terms of, among others, inter-ethnic tolerance, respect for minority rights and the fight against crime and corruption.

Lack of EU action

Kosovo has made substantial progress, but has yet to receive any reward. By contrast, the other countries in the region have received several carrots from the EU. The consequences are negative. The EU’s failure to deliver anything concrete in terms of visa liberalisation and the stabilisation and association process has discouraged ordinary citizens and there are now clear signs of Euroscepticism.

Kosovo remains the only western Balkan country that has no contractual relations with the EU. This is certainly not because we have not done our homework; we have done it. All we ask is for the EU to treat as one among equals, to be treated fairly, like the other countries in the region. This is the minimum we ask; it is also a European principle. We are not asking for favours; we merely do not want to be deprived.

To date, the EU’s approach to Kosovo has remained on the rhetorical plane. The EU has highlighted the importance of a European perspective for Kosovo, but no concrete step has been taken. As a result, Kosovo continues to be regarded as a black hole in the Balkans.

This is the right moment for Kosovo to move forward and come closer to its destination, in the EU. It is also time for the EU to tell us, without rhetoric, that Kosovo’s future is firmly linked with Europe’s. This would enhance peace and stability in the region. It would close the door on the mindsets of the past that linger in the region.

Almost two decades ago, the Kosovo War served as a catalyst for democratisation and European integration. Kosovo should not be left as the only country on our continent without a European future.

Make no mistake: this must be the hour of Europe for Kosovo.

Hashim Thaçi is prime minister of Kosovo.


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