Apostolova on the Day of Victory: The European Union is based on a great idea

Today is The Day of Europe which is celebrated as the Day of Victory over Fascism in memory of the end of the Second World War in 1945. The European Union was created five years later through its forerunner of the Euro-Economic Community. The two enemies during war  – France and Germany established the organization to jointly manage their coal and steel industries and with the idea that the war in Europe would never be repeated. Almost seven decades later, the EU itself, but also the region, are disturbed by numerous crises, including the rise of violence, xenophobia and nationalism. The Head of the EU Office in Pristina, Nataliya Apostolova answered questions about how she sees European values in this area. The interview was conducted in written form.

After developments related to the arrest of the Head of the Office for Kosovo Djuric and the deportation of six Turkish nationals and the statements of Kosovo President, Prime Minister and the Assembly Speaker that they didn’t know about such actions, can we speak of a democratic society which claim that they want to be members of the EU and that they are firmly standing ona European path, statements that we hear often from both Belgrade and Pristina?

Progress on the European path of both Serbia and Kosovo are firmly linked to progress on the normalisation of their relations. Events in March 2018 surrounding the entry procedures and the treatment of Serbian government official Marko Djuric heightened tensions. Any disagreements between Belgrade and Pristina need to be addressed and solved peacefully in and through the Dialogue.

As a young democracy, Kosovo naturally still needs time to reach the societal standards of older democracies. Kosovo, of course wants to close the gap as soon as possible, which takes time, as the changes to the political system, economic system, rule of law standards, and the behaviour, take time. They are not just mere decisions you put into a law. It takes time for the people to start feeling those laws as part of their societal achievement which they want to invest all their energy into implementing. A full implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) will make this change happen. This is why the SAA is so important. It provides concrete tools to improve the economy, create jobs, fight corruption, strengthen democracy and rule of law, and increase political and institutional stability.

We are pleased to see Kosovo with a clear destination which is the European path. Not just as a geographical or political destination, but rather as a commitment to build a society based on European values. There are moments when we are concerned, as we sometimes see hesitance to the respect of rule of law and justice, or the lack of decisive actions by the leaders to implement international agreements and commitments. But we see the change, and the EU is firmly supporting Kosovo to consolidate democratic institutions. However, the fragility persists, and can be easily tested even by a train, a wall or an improper initiative or statement.

To make sure Kosovo's progress is steady, a strong vision and leadership is needed, as well as a higher level of accountability towards the people, to make sure that they get the best possible public service.

The arrest and subsequent deportation of six Turkish nationals legally residing in Kosovo raised questions about the respect of due process. The rule of law is a fundamental principle of the European Union. All actions of the local Kosovo institutions are bound by the full respect for the rule of law and the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Arbitrary procedures concerning the arrest, detention or exile go against these principles.

Despite such setbacks, one has to have a bigger picture in mind. On this Europe Day, I want to say that Kosovo has achieved a lot over the past 10 years, whichgives optimism about Kosovo's ability to implement much needed structural reforms to secure a better future for its young population.

On 9th of May the Nazi Regime of Germany signed the capitulation in the World War II. This day is celebrated as Europe's Day, but above all victory against the fascism. During the last years in the region the governance is at the hand of authoritarian leaders and less on the hand of the institutions despite the formal democracies. Are you worried about this?

The EU is based on a great idea. The Foreign Minister of France Robert Schuman had this idea after many years of fighting between France and neighboring Germany during the Second World War. In a famous speech, he proposed to work together and to make sure that a war between the two countries will never happen again.

He shared his idea through his famous speech in the so called Schuman Declaration which he delivered on 9 May 1950. It is thanks to that idea that we now have had peace and stability in Europe for 68 years. This is also why every year we celebrate the 9th May as “Europe Day”. And as you know, Europe Day is also celebrated in Kosovo, which makes us very proud along with the fact that almost 90% of Kosovo people want to be part of the EU. This is a great motivation for our work.

Europe Day celebrates peace and unity in Europe. It celebrates our common values of solidarity, democracy, rule of law, and freedom, including free elections. Kosovo people share these European values, and want to see them translated into stability, economic growth and prosperity. I am happy to work for the European Union which is here to support Kosovo people in seizing this opportunity.

Can you indicate five values promoted by the Government in Belgrade and five values promoted by the Government in Pristina, which they recommend for the family of European countries? 

This question should be addressed to Governments in Belgrade and Pristina. What I can say is that we assess adherence to EU values and law each year in our Country Reports. In the last one, issued in April and available publicly, we list in detail where each Western Balkan partner stands in this respect.

What is the idea of joining the EU with the region (Western Balkans)?

The European Union is an economic and political union of 28 countries. Each of the countries within the Union are independent but they agreed to come together because they share common values and want a better life for their citizens. United they are stronger.

The EU is open to all European countries including the Western Balkans which share the same values as the 28 member states, which are willing to implement thorough reforms and cooperation.

As it was announced by the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini on the occasion of the new Western Balkans Strategy published three months ago, all six partners in the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia- have a clear European perspective. Sustained efforts and reforms are needed to get there, but it is clear that integration is in the interest of the people of the EU and the Western Balkans.

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