Willkommen auf den Seiten des Auswärtigen Amts
Address by the German Ambassador H.E. Mr. Christian Heldt on the occasion of the German EU Presidency 1 July 2020
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Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
We are living extraordinary times: the fact I am limited to addressing you via video is yet another sign to what extent the Corona pandemic has affected all of us and how it has impacted our lives and policy-making around the globe. Who would have thought back in January during the grand opening of the Croatian Presidency where we would stand today. Allow me to first of all thank my Croatian colleague Danijela Barisic and her team. Danijela, thank you for your unstoppable energy in making so much happen despite Corona, and to your government for assuring visibility and progress for the Western Balkans, it was such an important signal for all of us engaged in this part of Europe. And we have to keep insisting on this: We are in Europe here, though not yet in the EU. I also want to thank wholeheartedly our EUSR Nataliya Apostolova, who has kept up with super-human energy working for the EU’s support for this country, against all odds and animosities. And thanks for keeping us the EU family here motivated and on track. Nataliya, just these words: Thank you for all the sharing and caring, I hope all you did for Kosovo will one day be properly recognized.
So, here we are at the beginning of the German EU Presidency of which some miracles are expected, looking at the long list of wishes and expectations. Let me say right at the beginning, we will not be able to do everything.
We had to basically reshuffle everything due to the Corona pandemic and rethink how to get on our European feet again. Hence our presidency motto which is just out since a few days: „Together for Europe’s recovery“.
And that will be our top priority: An enormous outreach to get the EU up and running again. The effects have been terrible for the EU as a whole, and impacted some countries in a particularly terrible way. We stand before putting our societies and economies back on their feet after the worst overall crisis that hit our continent since World War II. A particular emphasis lays on the „together“, because this is what the EU is all about. The pandemic has made us appreciate again everything the EU stands for.
For our whole economic system, we have the opportunity now to make a leap in development to strengthen Europe facing a world in change. This is about innovation, this is about green economy, because the climate challenge remains looming. We have to find answers for the next generations to secure a prosperous future. And with prosperous future I mean a sustainable future. This is what the New Green Deal of the EU Commission is about, we cannot rely on the recipes of the past anymore if we want to stay relevant.
So we will be facing an unprecedented struggle within the EU to set us on an equally unprecedented path of recovery. This will tie a lot of time, energy and resources. And the world outside of the EU will also bring us such a number of challenges related to overcoming the Corona consequences, with global issues like climate change, with conflicts and security challenges, with our vision of multilateralism.
So, what does this mean for Kosovo? Let me start with some general comments on the noises we have seen over the past weeks and months with continuous EU bashing and personal insults against some of those who are the strongest supporters of this country. These negative voices seem to think that as we remain being polite and not descending onto these low levels of discussion is being naïve. Well, wrong, we are all taking note of this. With the Ministry of European Integration being disbanded, we are also watching closely if and how the new government will set its priorities regarding the European agenda in the future. We are closely observing the return of certain people to functions in ministries while the official pledge to fight corruption is being flagged.
Having said this, let me come to 3 big topics that will be in the focus of the next semester here in Kosovo besides the general themes of rule of law and the fight against corruption: the pandemic challenge, the dialogue with Serbia and visa liberalization:
- Overcoming the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic
Huge sums and tremendous efforts will be needed to get the Kosovar economy back on track and develop a more sustainable and resilient model for the economy. Answering to those accusing the EU of „words, not action“, take a look at these diagrams: for example, in 2019 as a whole year this is what the EU and its Member States gave to Kosovo. And now the specific Corona aid. See what the international community is doing? See what the EU is doing?
But what do we see here in Kosovo? Parliament unable to ratify international aid packages, as if this were just about partisan bickering and not the cornerstone of the socio-economic recovery of Kosovo. Then, a government programme including points that suggest a never-ending flow of money. A highway in the West of the country, whereas the connections to Peja and Mitrovica are not yet finished, make you wonder about money flows. That highway with its projected costs could reach a sum almost half of Kosovo’s annual budget. At the same time, we are all witnessing the consequences of the chronically underfunded health system or in the education sector, in which the EU and Germany are the biggest donors. Or the reappearance of the idea of a lignite power plant, an idea that is in flagrant contradiction of EU Aquis and that did not get its financing together. If this is only about questionable compensation demands on one particular project, 20 million amount to 50.000 average monthly Kosovar salaries. Is the EU, which only speaks words according to some, is this EU with its support package supposed to compensate for those parts that the government is not able or willing to deliver to the people? Neither in Brussels nor in Member States do we have trees where money grows on. What we want to do is help and support policies and projects that make sense for people and country.
There is this rumour that the dialogue with Serbia is about geopolitical games, and that the EU could not care less about Kosovar interests in a lasting solution. It is the exact opposite. Why, I ask you, should so many political actors all over Europe and also in my capital Berlin be so engaged? Because we are lacking international challenges? No, we want Kosovo and Serbia to settle things once and for all, but really settle matters and not leave loose ends for the future. This has already taken much too long. We want Kosovo to finally be in a universally secure setting on the path towards the EU and Euro-Atlantic integration. But this will largely depend on the contracting parties - the EU will not do the work for them. So we need serious preparation, serious unity in effort, no blame games and no victimization. Miroslav Lajcak has proven his commitment during his first rounds of talks in Pristina and Belgrade: We, the EU, we mean it. And we will walk this path with you, but for that we expect the necessary engagement here.
- Visa liberalization
I also want to be very clear on this one. As the German Embassy is the biggest purveyor of visa in this country, I do not have to be lectured about this by people with second and third passports. Yes, we have to resolve this as quickly as possible. Contrary to the belief of some political actors, we diplomats are out in places and speak to people who are far away from the politico-diplomatic bubbles. We are aware of the frustration and share it. Yet, deeds and words from some who reach an international audience are not exactly reassuring decision makers all over Europe. And this is what I see as being unfair. When visa liberalization will come, and I personally hope that this will be soon, it will not be because of some who right now shout the loudest. It will be because of the silent majority of anonymous, hardworking, law abiding citizens of this country. It will be because of a younger generation that deserves to finally discover the EU without lengthy procedures and hindrances. These are the people that have our attention and our sympathy to finally travel freely like their neighbours in the region.
And to conclude: These are also the people we believe in. Kosovo has wonderful people and a tremendous potential. This is what we want to see further developed, these are the people we want to focus on. With all what we are doing here for more than 20 years, it is not to please certain politicians or parties, it is about bringing the country and its people where they belong. Kosovo is a part of Europe, Kosovo will one day be a valued member of the EU. For that, serious engagement is expected from serious partners here for serious work. Today is July 1st, start of the German Presidency in the EU, today we hold out our hand and say: Let’s get down to work!