End of SAA negotiations marks new chapter for Kosovo

12/05/2014

The agreement will secure Kosovo's EU future once it is ratified.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 12/05/14

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EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule announced last week that Kosovo completed its negotiations with the EU for its stabilisation and association agreement. [AFP]

The EU stabilisation and association agreement (SAA) reached last week with Kosovo lays the foundation for the EU membership negotiation process, and is particularly important for Kosovo as it attempts to assert its statehood and reach European standards and practices.

The SAA includes provisions on trade, political dialogue, fundamental freedoms, security, justice and other policy areas covered in 10 chapters, five protocols and six annexes.

Kosovo has an excellent political, juridical and economic offer to join the most powerful political and economic bloc in the world, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said.

"This moment pushes away any doubts and seals the strategic definition of our state to be a member of the EU," Thaci said.

The agreement will anchor Kosovo into the mainstream of EU-Western Balkans relations, according to the EU.

"Following the Lisbon Treaty, which conferred legal personality to the EU, the stabilisation and association agreement will be concluded in the form of an EU-only agreement, involving the EU on one side and Kosovo on the other," the EU said in a statement.

The negotiations started last October after the European Commission confirmed that Kosovo had fulfilled the short-term criteria in the fields of rule of law, public administration, minority rights and trade.

The EU and Kosovo chief negotiators completed the negotiations on the full text of the SAA, said Peter Stano, spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule.

"The agreement will ... offer a clear European perspective for Kosovo. [It] is a big step forward on the road to Europe," Stano told SETimes.

EU officials also said the negotiations were intensive, given the comprehensive nature of the agreement.

"I would like to recognise the hard work and professionalism with which the Kosovo negotiating team worked on the agreement," said Jean-Eric Paquet, chief EU negotiator. "During this process, Kosovo has demonstrated political maturity as well as good technical capacity to negotiate complex matters."

Kosovo officials said the agreement has the same structure and content as the agreements with other regional countries, and it also includes all elements for full political and economic co-operation between Kosovo and the EU.

"Upon the effectiveness of the SAA, the EU will fully liberalise its market for Kosovo products, whereas Kosovo will continue to protect for some more time several specific product categories," said Vlora Citaku, Kosovo minister of integration and the country's chief negotiator.

Kosovo officials also said they made sure to protect local Kosovo products, such as those from the chicken meat industry, that have export potential.

"New markets within the EU, as a result of the SAA, will be secured," said Bernard Nikaj, Kosovo minister of trade and industry.

Kosovo analysts noted the agreement offers tremendous economic and political benefits. It is up to Kosovo to take advantage of them, but it must harmonise its laws and practices with those of the Union, they said.

Kosovo and the EU will gradually create a bilateral free-trade zone in which the free movement of goods, services, capital will be guaranteed from both sides, said Fatmir Curri, director of the Programme for European Integration at the Civil Society Foundation in Pristina.

"This agreement, after it is ratified and it goes in effect, will oblige both sides for a future 10-year period. Politically, it represents the first formal step of many steps toward EU membership and [represents] a strengthened partnership with the EU," Curri told SETimes.

The agreement discards any barriers of the EU market for Kosovo, said Ibrahim Rexhepi, director of the Kosovo Centre for Strategic and Social Research in Pristina.

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The negotiations started last October after the European Commission confirmed that Kosovo had fulfilled the short-term criteria in the fields of rule of law, public administration, minority rights and trade. [Kosovo Ministry of Integration]

"But equally importantly, it provides an impetus for domestic enterprises to increase the quality of their products and reach EU standards to become more competitive in that market," Rexhepi told SETimes.

Rexhepi said the agreement contains mechanisms that allow for the possibility to protect some local products, which are increasing in number, but can be threatened.

More than 40 percent of Kosovo's trade is with EU countries. But trade with the EU is characterised by a significant trade deficit. Kosovo exported goods in the amount of 276 million euros, but imported goods totalling about 2.5 billion euros.

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The successful closing of negotiations is a crucial step in the EU integration process that secures Kosovo's EU future once the agreement is signed, Ramadan Ilazi, executive director of the Kosovo Peace Institute in Pristina, said.

"While the positive effects will not be felt in the immediate future but long-term, it is important also to note that the agreement contains the Copenhagen criteria that will help improve rule of law, human rights and democracy in Kosovo," Ilazi told SETimes.

Ilazi said another positive element is that the term "state" is used repeatedly, which is important to clear any doubts about its true purpose.

What can Kosovo do to integrate more effectively in the EU? Share your opinion in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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