Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj of Kosovo credits "Euro-Atlantic" support for helping to build the young country. In an interview with euractiv.de, he urges the European Union to continue to provide aid and to help resolve lingering disputes with the EU's newest candidate country – Serbia.
?Enver Hoxhaj has been the foreign minister of Kosovo since 22 February 2011. He was previously minister of Education, Science and Technology. He represented Kosovo's delegation at the status talks with the US, EU and Russia and has worked at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights in Vienna. He spoke with EURACTIV Germany's Ewald König and Mimoza Troni.
What is the purpose of your recent visit to Berlin?
We have excellent political as well as diplomatic relations with Germany, but we are very interested in bringing more German businesses and investors to Kosovo. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and I also talked about how Germany could support Kosovo's European way. Germany is very important for the visa dialog.
I also informed Westerwelle about the situation in the north of Kosovo and how the streets are still blocked by the barricades, how Serbia is still trying to control the north with illegal security police and other paramilitaries, and how the security architecture of the Balkans is put in danger as long as the North is dominated from such a situation, as we experienced the last year.
As a country, we are very grateful for the massive support of the Federal Republic of Germany, no matter who is governing the country. Germany is the second biggest donor, following the USA, for development of Kosovo. With the German and American support – but also Great Britain, France and Italy and other European partners – we managed to build up a state from the ground up over the last four years.
Germany has played a very important role. It is valued not only by the members of government but also from the population. You could tell so from the visit of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Pristina in December.
There are a huge number of Kosovars accepted in Germany, who left Kosovo in very hard times under the Slobodan Miloševi? regime in the 1990s. They found a home here and they are an important bridge between Kosovo and Germany.
Are Americans more interested in the Balkans than the EU? What is the Americans' interest?
That, what we call the state-building of Kosovo, was first of all a Euro-Atlantic project. My country has a very special relationship with the USA – as a matter of fact they supported us massively over the last 20 years. We also have special relations with Berlin, London, Paris and other European centres, which supported us as well in the last 20 years.
The main aim for us is to build up a strategic partnership with the EU. We do not have to invent something new but to see how we deal with the other states. There are certain Stabilisation and Association Agreements and mechanisms in the framework of the EU.
This strategic partnership between Kosovo and the EU should take place only in the same framework it has been taking place with Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania.
Therefore, these two addresses are very important for us: Washington, which supports us massively, and Brussels too. Both of them have a very important role, there are no differences.
Five of the 27 EU-member states – namely Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia – do not recognise Kosovo yet. On the other hand these countries are not pursuing a blockade policy. They even recognise Kosovar passports. Are you pursuing a strategy towards these countries to recognise the Republic of Kosovo?
These five countries which did not recognise us do not form a bloc. Each of them has its different reasons and motives. Each of these countries has its special position and was not able to make a decision to recognise us as an independent state.
Secondly, for those countries Kosovo was for a long time a legal problem. In 2010 the International Court of Justice has submitted a very clear report with a crystal clear verdict that Kosovo, with its declaration of independence, did not violate international law.
Kosovo did not even violate the UN resolution 1244 and there are paragraphs mentioning Kosovo is not a precedent case – particularly for one of these five countries, which I do not want to mention. So these countries have no reason to not recognise us. They should not postpone any longer the recognition.
You mean Spain, which especially might be affected because of the Catalan and Basque independence movements. But what problems do you face from the non-recognition of these five countries?
My country has very good relations with all these countries. I believe the five countries do not pose us difficulties in our European perspective. Their position became more flexible last year. We have clear statements of foreign ministers that they support the European perspective of Kosovo.
But these countries weaken Europe from outside. Because the majority of EU member states is not able to convince these five countries to recognise us, it is not a good sign for European foreign policy. Concerning this issue, I believe that there is going to be positive progress.
In this regard, are you satisfied with the contribution of Catherine Ashton?
I am the foreign minister of my country and I do not want to make comments on persons and institutions in Brussels. But I can say the following: the European Union should be strongly and massively present in the Balkans and it should do more for my country in the short and long terms.
This is the only perspective for Kosovo and the region. This is the best way to overcome the past after 20 years full of conflicts and to carry out reforms and to modernise our countries. The latter is central, because in the last 200 years there were always elites which failed to modernise.
Therefore, traditional nationalists came to power. The EU is central for us because through it we become able to modernise our country and make Kosovo capable of participating in international competition.
But until we do not sign the Stabilisation and Association Treaty as a broad framework, we have no speed in the European integration process.
What do you mean by that?
We have not started anything yet. Visa liberalisation does not mean European integration. The real framework for European integration is the Stabilisation and Association Treaty. This should be offered to us.
We are not asking either to be a potential accession candidate or a date for the accession negotiations. But it is the ultimate time that we, as a country, sign the treaty. Evaluate us by measuring how we did our job. Last year it was confirmed that we have done a lot in the area of visa liberalisation – much better compared to other countries which already enjoy visa liberalisation.
If you would have to give a view of Kosovar-Serbian relations, how would you describe them? In particular given the context: that the Serbian election will also take place in the Republic of Kosovo and the recent decision of the European Council to grant Serbia candidate status?
We are very much interested that the structures in the north of Kosovo, namely the parallel structures and paramilitaries, leave the country. These structures should be abolished at any price.
For us it would be unimaginable and we will not accept that Serbia should try to organise elections in the north of Kosovo. Serbian elections in the north would only strengthen the parallel structures in Kosovo. That would affect the candidate status.
We were clear in this regard. We also asked from different state actors to put more pressure on Belgrade, in order to not organise elections there in the next months.
At the same time it was made clear to Serbian politicians that their approach, to have both the EU and Kosovo, cannot work out and that it is the wrong approach. I think that we cannot have integration of Serbia as long as Serbian President Boris Tadi? is trying to seize the north of Mitrovica with one hand and with the other join Brussels. Serbia has defined both the EU and Kosovo as political goals.
The EU and EU member states should be clear about what in the short and long terms would happen in this part of the Balkans if these parallel structures are not abolished, if Belgrade does not implement the treaties achieved in Brussels and if we cannot create normal relations with Serbia.
We are very much interested in looking to the future and having normal relations with Serbia. Kosovo remains furthermore existent, and Serbia should treat Kosovo as a partner state in its path to Europe.
That is good for Serbia, good for Kosovo, and it would be good for the whole region as well. With the Serbian politics of the last year in the north of Kosovo, upholding the status quo, Serbia has put itself in an impasse.
It is time for Serbia to seek its own happiness not outside its boundaries but within its borders. The happiness of Serbia and the Serbian people lies in the modernisation of the state and economic upturn.
The Kosovar movement of 'self determination' (Vetëvendosje!) has once again announced counter-blockades. How does the government deal with this?
As a state and as a government we will implement the international commitments we have accepted and respected. One of these commitments is freedom to travel. Political parties and citizens should not take over the role of institutions and restrict freedom of travel.
We are willing to do everything … to make sure that Kosovo is and remains a democratic state which ensures some important democratic values and standards, including freedom of travel and freedom of trade between countries.
We are in the process of dialogue, and if there is an agreement concerning freedom of trade and its conditions between Kosovo and Serbia, then this is the role of institutions.
What do you expect from Serbia with regard to the dialogue?
The question to ask is, to what extent has Belgrade implemented the agreements which we have reached in Brussels and whether our citizens can really enter Serbia with their identity cards as it was agreed in Brussels; whether Belgrade implements integrated border management (IBM); whether Belgrade agrees concerning the free trade conditions, for example, for our traders to export their goods through Serbia to the European market.
These are questions which have been also put by the media to the Serbian authorities in Belgrade.
Regarding those duties, you are also supported by the EU Rule of Law Mission "EULEX". How satisfied are you with the mission during its first three years?
I think that the EULEX has been doing a very good job up to now.
If you would compare Kosovo with other countries of the region and take into consideration the number of residents, the state tradition, the state budget and other capacities of these countries and make a study out of it, then none of the other countries – apart from Slovenia and Croatia – would be comparable with Kosovo in terms of the rule of law.
You only need look at what has been done in the last three to four years in Pristina and compare it to other major cities in the region. So we have a lot to show for it.
However, I believe that we still need the support of the European Union and EULEX concerning the rule of law. We are aware that this is incredibly central for the country's development. But you must also note that Kosovo is experiencing only its fourth year as a state. We have not been a state for 20 years, like Croatia, for example.
In your speech to the German Council on Foreign Relations [DGAP] you said that you do not like to read from notes, but prefer to communicate with the audience. Doing so makes you stand out from some politicians of the Balkans. Furthermore, you often hear about the symbolism in the language of politicians of Western Balkans. Do you think that such symbolism is passed by and a new rational time has begun which you represent perhaps?
In all countries of the Balkans, including Kosovo, there were two groups of elites. One group was more focused on traditional, national and conservative values. For this group symbolism was very central.
Then there is a second group of people who call themselves reformists or moderates and who above all try to see the West and Europe as the final stop in their political and economic development. I belong intentionally to the second group.
But I am very proud that I belong to the country of Kosovo which has suffered incredibly and has had a long and difficult path up to now. Kosovar history and culture remain crucial for my identity, even if I as a politician try to be very moderate. These are values I refer to.
Because of this, my work for a better future for my country, democratisation, opening and globalisation of society is central to me. We live practically in a time where anyone can produce news through blogs for example, but no one can control this news.
On the other hand, everyone has access to this news. For me as a politician therefore it is important to communicate with people about the values media should transmit. I always talk to everyone with the same language – with you, with journalists in Pristina and with other people.
Regarding the lecture at the DGAP, I just did not want to easily read the text. I do so reluctantly and only at meetings such as the ones at the United Nations or when I sit opposite of 40 foreign ministers.