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Interview with Ambassador Susanne Schütz given to Koha Ditore and Kossev on 18.09.2020
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Interview with Ambassador Susanne Schütz, Director for South-Eastern Europe, Turkey, EFTA States, OSCE and Council of Europe in the German Federal Foreign Office.
Despite the pandemics there have been a few interesting developments in Kosovo-Serbia dialogue over the last few months. How would you characterize the moment in which this process is now? DO you see progress forward, or is it still early to tell?
Indeed, there has been considerable progress in the dialogue despite the difficult context and the difficulties caused by the pandemic. Since his appointment as EU Special Representative for the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak was able to restart the dialogue to work in structured and in-depth negotiations between both parties on important unresolved issues. After 20 months of silence, this in itself is a success. Both sides now have to continue the work with full commitment and with a view to necessary compromises. We need a comprehensive, sustainable agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, which allows for the realization of the EU perspective of both countries and contributes to stabilty in the region. People both in Kosovo and in Serbia would hugely benefit from such an agreement, since the unresolved bilateral relationship holds both countries back.
Less than ten days ago, there was a round of Kosovo-Serbia talks in Washington, mediated by White House, that concluded with a signing of what was labeled Economic Normalization Agreement. What is your view of the signed documents? Do you endorse the agreements, or you have reservations towards what was reached?
In general, activities that bring the parties closer together and improve life for the people are welcome. The meeting in Washington underscored that both sides are willing to engage in a diplomatic effort to improve their relations. As we see it, the documents contain elements from past EU-facilitated Dialogue agreements and the current EU-Dialogue agenda, as well as infrastructure projects funded previously by the EU, but also positions that take Serbia and Kosovo away from EU positions and, thus, away from their respective European paths.
Additionally, for Germany and the EU, anything which is mutually agreed also has to be fully compatible with the commitments that Serbia and Kosovo have made regarding alignment of their legislation with the EU acquis, our rules and laws, as well as to contribute to regional stability. While we welcome the planned establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Kosovo, we regret any plans to establish or move embassies to Jerusalem, which would go against the EU position on that matter: The peaceful settlement of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict requires a negotiated agreement on central questions agreed to by both sides, including on the status of Jerusalem.
We welcome that during the high level-meeting with High Representative Borrell and Mr. Lajcak in Brussels on 7 September, immediately after the Washington meeting, Prime Minister Hoti and President Vucic made clear that they attach the highest priority to the EU-facilitated dialogue. It is also very positive that within the EU-dialogue, a next high-level meeting is scheduled for the end of the month, and that the discussions between the chief negotiators continue meanwhile.
You asked about economic aspects. Of course, we are ready to work with our US partners to boost the economic development of Kosovo, Serbia and the Western Balkans as a whole.
In general, a sustainable agreement between Kosovo and Serbia will require close cooperation between the EU as facilitator of the dialogue and international partners.
With view to regional cooperation, we would welcome further synergies. As a next step, it would be important for the Western Balkans to launch the second phase of the Regional Economic Area at the summit of the Berlin Process, co-hosted by Bulgaria and North Macedonia and planned for this autumn.
Is there coordination between US and EU over the dialogue process, and is there coordination between EU member countries?
In agreeing on a mandate for Mr. Lajcak, EU member states formulated their common understanding of the dialogue process and what it is to achieve: a legally binding agreement that addresses all outstanding issues between the parties in accordance with international law and contributing to regional stability.
Together with Miroslav Lajcak and his team, all EU member states regularly exchange views on latest developments in the dialogue. Of course, we are also in frequent contact with our US colleagues. The presence of the US Special Envoy on the Western Balkans, Matt Palmer, in Brussels while the dialogue meetings were happening, also shows that there is close cooperation. The USA are an important partner to the EU in Kosovo and we share our engagement also through the continued KFOR presence.
What is Germany’s position towards the „final deal“; we know Berlin has been vocal against talks of territory. But what is it that you think needs to be adressed? And when we say „legally binding agreement“ –does that mean mutual recognition?
Germany expects the dialogue to lead to a comprehensive agreement that settles all open issues, unlocks both countries’ EU perspective, and that will contribute to regional stability. A legally binding agreement means that it creates legal obligations for both sides, rather than being limited to political declarations of intent. To me, this means that both sides can be held accountable to what they have agreed. It will have to create a new level of trust. As regards mutual recognition, it is not conceivable that two member states of the European Union would not recognise each other.
With this aim in mind, both sides will have to address also those difficult issues, where there is so far little common ground. I fully trust Mr. Lajcak in advancing discussions in this direction.
An agreement would bring greater stability to the region. As is well known, we do not believe that territorial changes or land swap scenarios would contribute to such a sustainable solution.
The EU mediator, Mr. Lajcak, announced that a Kosovo-Serbia final deal is possible within months. Does Germany share that optimism and on what basis?
I share the sense of urgency in bringing about a sustainable deal between Kosovo and Serbia. Yet, it is clear there can be no quick fix: I believe that the substance of an agreement matters more than the timeframe. I am encouraged by the progress that Special Representative Lajcak and the two parties have made within the last months. Now it will depend on the parties to work through the substance for a comprehensive and legally binding agreement.
And as Mr. Lajcak also clearly stated after the last round of talks in Brussels, the very complex and sensitive issues are yet to come. The negotiations will not become easier and both parties have to be ready to make painful compromises. But addressing and settling all outstanding issues is paramount for normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
What is the approach to the previously signed Brussels agreements? Will they be reviewed, upgraded, changed in any way? Will there be insistence to simply implement what has not be implemented so far?
This is a question primarily to the two parties and to Mr Lajcak. In my opinion, negotiations should not fall short of commitments already made.
With political crisis still brewing in Kosovo, and a Government that has slim majority and contested legitimacy, do you think there is realistic chance for Kosovo to sucessfully complete the Brussels process with the current instituional leadership and coalitions?
To be able to make its voice heard in the dialogue, Kosovo must develop common positions across party lines on the many open issues with Serbia. This is an urgent task that lies in the interest of Kosovo as a whole. We welcome all efforts to embed the negotiation team in a wide political consensus. This advice is independent of any instability or the size of a government majority. All in all, I do believe there is a realistic chance for success.
On the other hand, we have visa liberalization issue, that many in Kosovo are seeing as proof that EU is not capable of delivering on its promises. What are the chances of this issue being finaly resolved, considering it bears so much importance for kosovar citizens?
I am aware of the frustration in Kosovo caused by the fact that visa liberalisation is still pending. We know the topic too well. It is a pressing interest for many families as well as for businesses. There is a need to achieve progress on this issue, which is highly relevant for the EU-Kosovo relations as well as for the Kosovo economy. However, to convince remaining sceptics in the EU it will be very important that Kosovo does its part. We will need a continued and clear commitment to fighting corruption and organised crime as well as to strengthening the rule of law.
Finally, there are other developments that have the potential to trouble the situation in and around Kosovo – weakened economy after pandemics, specialist court possible inditments, outside eastern political influences – which can impact the dialogue process, as well. What is the message Germany has for Kosovo government, as well as for all external actors - what steps should be taken, what dangers shuold be clunted upon, and what way forward needs to be taken?
Strengthening the economy through and after the pandemic is paramount for Kosovo and the entire Western Balkans.The substantial EU assistance package to the Western Balkans totalling €3.3 billion to mitigate the impact of the pandemic is a clear sign of support. Germany is also providing bilateral aid to Kosovo. Also, next week, experts of the Robert-Koch-Institute will travel to Kosovo and in close cooperation with the World Health Organisation will provide assistance and recommendations.
The Specialist Chambers have our full support. Investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity is part and parcel of the Kosovar commitment to the rule of law. There can be no lasting peace in a society without justice. Germany firmly believes that fighting impunity through national and international criminal courts is part of a responsible legal and foreign policy. Together with the EU, Kosovo has taken this important step towards that end with the creation of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers under Kosovar law. It is important to stress that the Specialist Chambers only investigate alleged crimes of individuals and do not prejudge an entire country or its people.
Any attempts to hinder investigations, procedures or the work of the Chambers as a whole are highly detrimental to Kosovo’s international standing and will have consequences.
Questions posed from Koha Ditore and Kossev.