Kosovo Minister: ‘We feel part of Western Europe’

Besim Beqaj.JPG

From a cultural and historical point of view, Kosovo is a country that considers itself as part of Western Europe, Besim Beqaj, Kosovo's minister for European integration, told EURACTIV Czech Republic in an interview.

Besim Beqaj was appointed Kosovo's minister for European integration in April this year. Before that he was president of the Chamber of Commerce of Kosovo.

He spoke to EURACTIV.cz’s Lucie Bednarova and Kamila Mouchová during an official visit to Prague.

Your country is the youngest in Europe. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) said in July that Kosovo did not violate international law when it claimed secession from Serbia in February 2008. It was undoubtedly a very important step for you. What will be the next one?

We were waiting for a positive response because we were convinced that our declaration of independence was in line with international law. The ICJ opinion was very clear and it has helped us to bring the case to many countries who had doubted the legality of Kosovo's statehood. This was a bold move, and after the declaration of independence and adopting the constitution, it was the third important step in Kosovo's recent history.

The ICJ ruling justified the declaration of independence in legal terms and the UN General Assembly resolution – sponsored by 27 EU member states – has now provided its political confirmation. This is a very important moment for us. We are opening a new chapter of our history. We want to show the progress of reforms we are undertaking now and our readiness and responsibility to do so. We want to be a part of the puzzle of independent and democratic countries in the world.

What does European integration and EU membership mean to your country?

From a cultural and historical point of view, we are a country considering itself as a part of Western Europe. We are a country which has two-thirds of the population younger than thirty years of age. As a young European state, we are expecting that our young generation will contribute to overall developments in Europe.

If you make a referendum about EU membership in Kosovo tomorrow, 90% of our population will vote in favour. There is optimism among people and they are looking forward to the future.

What is your government doing for this?

As a government, we are undertaking the necessary steps for reforms, rule of law, making our economy work, strengthening civil society, being constructive in relationships with our neighbours, entering bilateral relations with other economies, etc. We are behaving ourselves as a facilitator in regional cooperation and we want to prove to the EU that we are a reliable and responsible partner in the region.

Let's go back to the UN court ruling: some EU member states still refuse to recognise the independence of Kosovo as they claim it could set a precedent for separatist movements around the world. What do you think about this?

Some say that Kosovo declared its independence unilaterally. I think it is not the right expression because we coordinated the declaration with international law. There are countries, quite a big number of them, that have recognised us and also countries that have not. Among them there are five member states of the EU [Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Spain and Romania].

We are very happy that they have not recognised us due to Kosovo or Serbia – I mean that they are not taking one or the other's side. They refuse to recognise us due to their own internal concerns.

The ICJ has provided the right explanation for Kosovo's declaration of independence as sui generis and confirmed that it cannot be used as a precedent for other cases in the world. However, we have been explaining that none of those countries and none of the EU member states refusing to recognise us should fear the independence of Kosovo.

Kosovo is not bringing problems, it is bringing values. I repeat the following on every occasion: the EU is about human values. It was built on those foundations and we, as people, want to accept all this and contribute to a better and stronger European Union.

Hypothetically, what would happen if the countries opposed to Kosovo's independence did not ever recognise it? Are you ready for such a scenario?

You can never say never in politics. We are working very hard to give all the arguments to those countries refusing to recognise us and to persuade them that right is on our side. I must say we see good movement now – e.g. 27 members of the EU recently sponsored the UN resolution together with Serbia.

As the EU member states unified their position on this occasion, we expect the same for the whole process.

And a scenario for non-recognisers? No, I believe that sooner or later we will be able to persuade them that recognising us is the only way.

Serbian President Boris Tadi? announced a few days ago that his country was ready to open a dialogue with Pristina. But he still refuses to recognise your country's independence. What in your view would be a successful result of these negotiations?

Let me be open. The ICJ opinion and the UN resolution was a big shift in Serbian politics. In the resolution there is a special reference to the ICJ opinion, which says the declaration of independence was in line with international law.

So, we are not going to put our neighbour in a difficult position by asking for immediate recognition. But I think we can move [forward] on practical issues, as we are ready to engage in a constructive dialogue with Serbia about some technical issues.

We are neighbours trying to improve the living conditions of our citizens, so there really are a lot of topics we can discuss, e.g. the economy, transportation – the same topics we discussed with Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Italy and France, etc. before.

You were talking about very recent events, so I must ask about the resignation of your president, Fatmir Sejdiu, on 27 September. Could that affect negotiations with Serbia somehow?

It is very important for us. We are sending the signal of a very mature democracy. Our president resigned after our constitutional court asked for it.

I have to emphasise it was not due to some misuse of his powers or a conflict of interests. The court just said that the president could not hold two positions – the presidency of the country and the presidency of the [political] party – at the same time. So we are not in crisis.

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