Kosovo moves towards SAA

27/02/2012

Analysts and the international community praised the EC's decision to launch a feasibility study on an SAA for Kosovo.

By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 27/02/12

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Kosovo will follow the same European course as other countries in the Western Balkans, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said. [Reuters]

EU foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday (February 28th) to decide on Belgrade's EU path will have a new deal to take into account.

The agreement, reached on Friday between Pristina and Belgrade, focuses on Kosovo's regional representation.

The agreement paves the way for the country to follow the same European course as all others in the Western Balkans, in line with its European perspective, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle said.

In this light, the EC proposes to launch a feasibility study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) between Kosovo and the EU.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said that the agreement will offer Kosovo the European integration process. "The Association-Stabilisation Process is the first official step in the process of Kosovo's membership to the European family," Thaci said after the agreement was reached on Friday.

Experts also welcomed the study, but say this comes more as a move to calm negative voices against Thaci rather than as a reward for implemented reforms.

"The reward policy must be turned to rewards for reforms, and not reward for compromises, because it is frustrating the people, and we might see a decrease of support for the EU in Kosovo," Kosovo Society for Social Research analyst Edrit Hamdiu told SETimes.

"The country must focus itself on implementing the reforms needed to move forward, and to reform the public administration, which is very political and less professional, and it represents the core institution in the whole EU process," Hamdiu said.

Alber Gashi, an EU expert at the European and Turkey Policy Institute, says that the feasibility study is a tool in the hands of the EC, but the Council needs to give the green light on negotiations.

"I am hoping that the EU has the approval of the five non-recognising countries (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain), because if not, when the Commission might suggest the start of negotiations on SAA, they might block it at the council, and thus send a very wrong message to Kosovo's people," Gashi says.

He says that the EU will do everything it can to calm the situation in Kosovo -- offering political support to Thaci, who is under strong pressure not to sway on the recognision issue.

"I expect soon they [EU] will start the dialogue on visa liberalisation, and on free trade, while also they do the feasibility study, just to offer political support to Thaci," Gashi says.

Hamdiu said that the impact of the forward move will be not just on Kosovo, but on the whole region.

"Although Kosovo is starting the process very late, it is a positive sign to the whole region that in time of the debt crisis and uncertainty in the EU, the enlargement process will go ahead," Hamdiu says.

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Ulrike Lunacek, Member of European Parliament and Rapporteur for Kosovo, told SETimes that the start of a feasibility study sends a positive message.

"Even if we all know that this will still take many years, it is an important step forward, because it also means that contractual relations between the EU and Kosovo are on their way," Lunacek said.

The international community also welcomed the move.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger reiterated his call for a quick feasibility study and a SAA with Kosovo. "Just as we want to bring Serbia close to the EU, [to] Kosovo must be open a tangible European perspective."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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