On 11 June, Kosovo must elect a European future

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. [Geri/Flickr]

Kosovo’s up-coming election is a chance for the country to confirm itself as a “bright spot” in the Balkans and choose the path towards European integration, writes Avdullah Hoti.

Avdullah Hoti is Kosovo’s finance minister and prime ministerial candidate of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

In under three weeks, Kosovo faces a choice between a pro-European future and backward-looking nationalism. I will be leading my party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) together with a coalition of centre-right partners, in an election that offers voters the opportunity to decide which path our country takes. This election is, simply, about whether Kosovo is best served by participation in Europe’s economic and political institutions, or distance from them.

This week, I met the President of the European People’s Party (EPP) Joseph Daul, to discuss prospects for the region in achieving ever closer integration with – and ultimately accession to – the European Union. This, alongside greater economic development and job growth, as well as a commitment to the inviolability of the rule of law and the fight against corruption, forms one of the three pillars on which the party stands today. It is absolutely central to our outlook and to securing a prosperous future for Kosovo.

The crucial next step is achieving visa-free travel in the Schengen Area for the citizens of our country, who see their future as European. Our discussions with the EU on this issue have been stunted by the opposition’s protests over the border demarcation deal with Montenegro. This is a highly sensitive issue for Kosovar citizens, and it is vital to engage in open and honest dialogue with the full political spectrum to move forward – a process I will undertake swiftly as prime minister.

However, it is not just our European future that is at stake at the upcoming election – our economic development is also at risk. As finance minister, I have overseen economic growth of 4%, the highest of any country in the region, as well as significant reforms towards increasing productivity and competitiveness. I have also overseen the creation of 40,000 new jobs and the increase of budget revenues by 60%, facilitating greater public sector investment.

We have been building a nation that can deliver on the needs and aspirations of its citizens, and meet the economic and democratic standards we need to move forward. Kosovo, as identified by the NGO Freedom House, is a “bright spot” for democracy, with our performance in the global rankings improving; climbing above those of our neighbours. We are just at the beginning of this journey, and much more needs to be done to build our modern European nation. This can be achieved – but it requires active leadership from the EU in the region.

The Balkans is at a crossroads. Albania, like Kosovo, is scheduled to hold elections in June. Macedonia has already held successful elections, and secured a mandate to form a new government.  Now is the time for the region to move forward, to seize the momentum and deliver a European future. Kosovo can lead this transformation.

There are those among us who still see international relations in terms of conflict. Their instincts are to drag Kosovo towards the past. These people have sacrificed so much and we should be thankful to them for getting us so far – but the next phase of our nation building requires a different approach.

It needs cooperation, capable economic administration, and optimism. It demands that we sit down with our neighbours and find opportunities for the next generation to work, trade, and travel freely. The European Union is a tangible manifestation of our future.

The EU, like Kosovo, is at a critical juncture. Brexit has tested the resolve of even those most committed to the European project. However, as the people of France have shown, Europe will stay true to its founding principles: to bring peace and people together.

To Kosovars the EU is still as bright a beacon of hope as was ever imagined by its fathers, like Monnet and Schuman. We are yet to fully enjoy the spoils of peace, having only recently settled our security question. But we know what we have to do to get there, and what we must avoid.

I believe the future is positive for Kosovo. European integration will triumph over isolationism. Hope over fear – pragmatism over populism. It is up to the Kosovar people to decide which path our country takes, but I have faith that they will choose peace and prosperity.

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