European Integration

Kosovo is slowly moving closer to normalising its relationship with the EU

Text by Christian Ernhede & photography by Bruno Mariani

Seven years af­ter Kosovo's de­c­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, Kosovo is still fac­ing sub­stan­tial ob­sta­cles on the path to reg­u­lar­is­ing its re­la­tion­ship with the EU. Five EU coun­tries (Cyprus, Greece, Ro­ma­nia, Slo­va­kia, and Spain) are yet to recog­nise Kosovo, but the new gov­ern­ment formed in De­cem­ber 2014 is hope­ful that EU re­la­tions will move for­ward, and that they will one day be­come full mem­bers of the Eu­ro­pean Union.

Un­der­stand­ably, EU mem­ber­ship is an al­lur­ing con­cept for Kosovo, which is oth­er­wise set for growth, with one of the youngest pop­u­la­tions in Eu­rope, low wages, and at­trac­tive tax rates. De­spite the cor­rup­tion and po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty that still pose sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers for fur­ther growth, the Kosovo econ­omy has ac­cord­ing to the World Bank seen an av­er­age growth of 4.5% be­tween 2008-2012.

Kosovo's Minister of Interior Affairs, Skender Hyseni

Sk­ender Hy­seni, Kosovo's Min­is­ter of In­te­rior Af­fairs dur­ing our dis­cus­sion in Brus­sels.

As such, Kosovo is one of the few Eu­ro­pean economies that showed pos­i­tive growth dur­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis. But ac­cord­ing to Kosovo's Min­is­ter of In­te­rior Af­fairs, Sk­ender Hy­seni, con­tin­ued growth is the only op­tion: “stag­na­tion breeds frus­tra­tion which is very dan­ger­ous in our re­gion.”

Closer ties with the EU is in­te­grally linked to open­ing up of its bor­ders, and while Kosovo is the only coun­try west of Ukraine whose cit­i­zens can­not travel to the EU Schen­gen area with­out a visa, the re­cent spike in il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion from Kosovo to the Schen­gen area is fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing re­la­tions. Hy­seni is cat­e­gor­i­cal how­ever in his dis­missal of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion: “It is pro­foundly un­just to keep Kosovo out­side the visa-free zone.”

Cor­rup­tion is an­other sub­stan­tial bar­rier for fur­ther in­te­gra­tion with the EU, and for con­tin­ued eco­nomic growth. Ac­cord­ing to Hy­seni, cor­rup­tion af­fects the high­est lev­els of gov­er­nance in Kosovo and he says that “we need to con­trol cor­rup­tion to pre­vent it from dam­ag­ing the back­bone of the coun­try.” Hy­seni states how­ever, that cor­rup­tion in Kosovo is not at an alarm­ing level and that in the re­gion, Kosovo is not an ex­cep­tion: “cor­rup­tion is a se­ri­ous is­sue that needs to be tack­led, but our neigh­bours are worse.” How­ever, ac­cord­ing Trans­parency In­ter­na­tion­al's Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tions In­dex 2013, only Al­ba­nia re­ceived a worse score. But Hy­seni is again op­ti­mistic, and promises that we can ex­pect to see real re­sults un­der the new gov­ern­ment within a year. He also dis­misses the al­leged cor­rup­tion at EU­LEX as un­sub­stan­ti­ated and that “it is for the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion to ver­ify al­le­ga­tions”. Nonethe­less, he stresses that cor­rup­tion at EU­LEX do not min­imise the im­por­tance of EU­LEX's pres­ence. “Kosovo is in the mak­ing, and we take any ad­vice we can get.”

The next ma­jor step for nor­mal­is­ing Kosovo-EU re­la­tions is the Sta­bil­ity and As­so­ci­a­tion Agree­ment, which is set to be signed by June this year. Al­though the five EU coun­tries that have not yet recog­nised Kosovo are un­likely to block the agree­ment ac­cord­ing to a Fea­si­bil­ity Study by the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion, they may prove to be ob­sta­cles for fur­ther co­op­er­a­tion on visa re­quire­ments and full EU mem­ber­ship. Hy­seni how­ever be­lieves that Kosovo has done what it can to con­vince the five EU coun­tries that have not yet recog­nised Kosovo to do so, but ad­mits that the EU in­sti­tu­tions could do more to ad­vance uni­ver­sal recog­ni­tion of Kosovo.