Press Releases Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu, President of the Republic of Kosovo

Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu, President of the Republic of Kosovo

First of all, let me say that we strongly condemn the violent attacks of 24 September. My deepest condolences to the family and the friends of the police officer. Such an attack is totally inacceptable, it clashes with EU values. And the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

Dear Madam President, dear Vjosa,

It is good to be here again. And thank you very much for welcoming me here again in Pristina. At the very beginning, let me reassure you that the EU is fully committed to a future with all six Western Balkan countries as part of our European Union. Looking at Kosovo, my first message is: Kosovo is making steady progress on EU reforms. So, congratulations for your hard work and your efforts. Especially in strengthening your democracy, with your cross-party electoral reform. Of course, there is more work to be done, as we have just discussed in our meeting. But I want to reassure you: We will walk this path together.

At the beginning, perhaps a word on the visa liberalisation. I remember very well last year when the two of us were at the press conference, and there was this strong call for the visa liberalisation. Now, this year, I would say that we have basically made it. So this is a big step forward. As of 1 January, Kosovo citizens will be able to enjoy visa-free travel to the European Union, like the rest of the region. We all know this is a fantastic way to bring our people closer. It is a very important milestone in our relations. So, well done. This is the result of years of hard work from the side of Kosovo. I know it.

My second message is: We have to bring our economies closer. This is what we have been doing in the past. You recall that we have our EUR 30 billion European Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. It is delivering fast. For example, the Railway Corridor X that connects you, Serbia and North Macedonia. And the Solar4Kosovo-Photovoltaic Plant that you are currently preparing. These are beautiful projects. Last year, we went together side by side through an enormous, severe energy crisis. We supported you with EUR 75 million. I hope this helped cushion the impact of high energy prices on households and businesses. These were very testing times, but we overcame the difficulties together.

As I said, we have to bring our economies closer. If we look at the figures, the economy of Kosovo is at 27% of the EU average income. So, there is a lot of untapped potential. And we should try to double your economy in a decade. This is why we have put forward the Growth Plan. If I may summarise it very briefly, it contains four pillars.

The first pillar is: We open our Single Market in several crucial sectors to your businesses, your companies.

In return, and this is pillar number two, we expect you to open your borders to your neighbours and complete the Common Regional Market of the Western Balkans. This is very important because we then have the Single Market and we have the Common Regional Market, which has an enormous potential. Actually, the Common Regional Market could increase the GDP of the Western Balkans by 10%, if completed.

The third pillar says that, for this opening of the markets, we need a level playing field. For that, some reforms have to be done. For example, for Kosovo, improving the business environment, equipping people with the right skills, or greening your energy sector. You are doing a lot, but we have to do more. And of course, there are still very important horizontal priorities, like strengthening the judiciary, as well as fighting corruption and organised crime.

The fourth pillar says that, with the reforms you are doing, comes investment. This is a principle we have adopted in the European Union in our so-called NextGenerationEU plan: investment and reforms. And it works very well. So if it works in the European Union’s Member States, I am convinced it will also work in the Western Balkan countries.

This Growth Plan is supposed to boost your economy. Most importantly, it will create good jobs. And it will support you on your accession path to the European Union. I believe this is the right offer at the right time. As I said, the Plan has the potential to double your economy within a decade. And it will play an important role in your path to the European Union.

My last message: We all know that we can only achieve all these steps forward and successes if Kosovo and Serbia normalise their relations. It is absolutely crucial for both to engage, to cooperate.  And we have discussed the topic together that Kosovo could launch the procedure to establish the Association of Serb-majority municipalities – that is the draft statement of last week. Serbia should deliver on de facto recognition. This is what I will discuss tomorrow in Serbia. And of course, the EU Dialogue is the place to discuss these topics.

We are deeply convinced that this the only way to go forward, not only to access the Growth Plan but also towards a future in which Kosovo – and we really hope it is going to happen – is part of the European Union.

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