Tirana, 10 June 2021
Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence is a continuing obstacle to regional cooperation. Kosovo cannot engage in initiatives that are tailored to deny Kosovo’s status as a sovereign and independent state; we will engage only as equals, said the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, during his speech at the Summit of Leaders of the Western Balkans, in Tirana.
The summit, which brought together the leaders of the six Western Balkan countries and the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Good Neighbourhood, Olivér Várhelyi, focused on the implementation of the economic and investment plan presented for the region by the European Commission as well as the way forward to the Berlin Process summit with regional leaders in July.
In his speech, Prime Minister Kurti said that Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia still remain outside the EU. The six Western Balkan countries are in Europe, but the EU is not yet Europe, he said, as he proposed changing the model of future engagement and cooperation between the Western Balkan countries.
To move forward we need a new framework for cooperation, which is based on shared values and a commitment to a set of core principles. The new framework will be called the South East European Free Trade Agreement – or SEFTA, the prime minister said.
Full speech of Prime Minister Kurti at the summit:
White Paper on Western Balkans 2030 Agenda
Dear Prime Minister of Albania, Mr. Rama,
Dear EU Commissioner, Mr. Várhelyi,
Dear leaders of neighbouring countries and the region,
Prime Minister Rama, thank you for organizing this summit and for bringing all of us together, indeed we need to meet often and talk more.
I know we are given 5 minutes time for our introduction, so I’ll try to be brief. My remarks are divided in three parts with the last part ending in a proposal for future cooperation among our countries.
The first part is for the European Union to become Europe.
As we know, seventy-one years ago, amidst the immense suffering, destruction, animosity, and mistrust caused by the Second World War, the Schuman Declaration was published, and a bold idea was born; the idea of cooperation through common institutions. This idea flourished and led to the creation of the world’s largest free market, bringing together more than 500 million people in one European Union.
Yet, though it has greatly expanded, the EU today is not Europe. Albania, Kosova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia remain outside of the EU.
WB6 are in Europe but the EU is still not Europe.
Second part is that the current model of our engagement needs to change
The current approach to regional cooperation is adversely affected by political disputes which have impeded cooperation and increased doubts and insecurities about the future. To solve these problems, we must first openly acknowledge their source without equivocation or finesse.
– Serbia’s refusal to recognise Kosova’s independence is a persistent obstacle to regional cooperation. Kosova cannot engage with initiatives which are framed to deny Kosova’s status as a sovereign, independent state; we will only engage as equals.
– Within the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), Kosova is consistently and repeatedly treated unequally and unjustly. In its current form, CEFTA cannot prepare the region for EU accession. We need to upgrade and accelerate.
– Within the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) due to Serbia’s non-recognition of Kosova, all initiatives turn into disputes about terminology. Given these facts, we cannot pretend that future initiatives will resolve the current obstacles unless we change our current framework of cooperation.
– Furthermore, the current framework does not address issues relating to democratic participation, facing of the past, anti-corruption, governmental accountability, judicial independence, and media freedoms.
This brings me to the last part, which is the way forward.
To move forward we need a new framework for cooperation. One based on shared values and a commitment to a set of core principles, this new framework would be called the Southeast European Free Trade Agreement – or SEFTA.
– SEFTA would include the countries of the Western Balkans as equal members with equal rights, based on a special relationship with the EU, similar to the European Economic Area (EEA) arrangement.
– After establishing SEFTA, the EU, through an agreement with SEFTA, would extend the EU’s four freedoms – the free movement of goods, services, persons, and capital – across the SEFTA countries.
– This agreement would be modelled on the current EFTA-EEA Agreement which would provide for both the Western Balkans and the EU to move forward together while adopting EU legislation.
– It would have a similar institutional structure modelled around the EEA comprising a Council, a Joint Committee, a Court, a Secretariat, and a Surveillance authority, among others.
– It would respond also to the EU’s “Economic Investment Plan for Western Balkans”, which seek to mobilise up to 9 billion EUR in funding in this decade.
– Given the lack of preparedness and expertise within the region, the agreement with the EU would provide for a surveillance mechanism, headed and operating under European Union to ensure that all members comply with the agreement; this is crucial if we are to have a common market that works fairly and justly.
– Both the EU and the Western Balkans could hold a special summit in 2024 and 2027 to evaluate the level of preparedness for full membership into EU.
– Kosova is eager to join the EU and to contribute to its continued growth. We welcome the opportunity to work closely with all our regional neighbours in facilitating our collective EU accession. Our proposal is bold, but so are the dreams of our citizens. We are convinced that if we walk this path together, then we will be able to address the many challenges and achieve our shared objective.