Unemployment, inequality, and the challenges of developing a productive economy to meet global development goals and overcome legacies of impunity, are among the “hard-nosed realities” facing Kosovo, the head of the United Nations political mission there said today, calling for international involvement to help Kosovo’s institutions, and the wider region as a whole, overcome such obstacles.
In his second quarterly briefing in 2016 to the UN Security Council, Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) said that internal political dynamics in Pristina preoccupied the UN Mission – as well as the European Union (EU) missions and many other actors – for almost a year, culminating in April in the inauguration of a new President of Kosovo.
In addition, Serbian general elections were successfully held in April, with a new Parliament and Cabinet there currently in the process of formation, he added.
Kosovo at centre of European security issues
“First of all, Kosovo has been, and continues to be, at the centre of issues vital for overall security in Europe and for relations in a wider context,” he said.
“The election of a new President of Kosovo, albeit under a divisive atmosphere, and the newly mandated Government of the Republic of Serbia provide, together I believe, an excellent opportunity to draw a line under a period which has often been marked by political infighting and other distractions,” he added.
The Special Representative noted the conciliatory messages and vision presented both by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and by Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi following their respective electoral successes.
“I join other engaged actors in the hope that these peaceful transitions of power will help the political scene to settle, and will offer more room for energy to be spent on other, more fundamental, challenges facing the region,” he said.
Mr. Tanin noted that less than two weeks ago, the population of Kosovo received “important and undoubtedly welcome news”: the European Commission formally proposed, to the EU Council and EU Parliament, to transfer Kosovo to the visa-free short-stay list for travel in the “Schengen area”.
“The authorities in Kosovo deserve credit for the efforts made toward fulfilling the conditions of the ‘visa liberalisation roadmap’”, he said.
He also noted that one month earlier, the EU Stabilisation and Association Agreement for Kosovo had been announced, and reiterated that the Serbia’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement entered into force back in September 2013.
“Again, placed side by side, these crucial achievements demonstrate the progress the region is making towards the goal of greater integration, with all the benefits such integration brings,” Mr. Tanin said. “The links are not always clearly spelled out between the ongoing peace process, which is at the core of our UNMIK mandate, and these EU processes.”
The Special Representative highlighted that for Pristina and for Belgrade, integration is closely interlinked with the EU-facilitated high-level dialogue process, adding that Kosovo’s recent advancement in its European perspective should reinforce and enhance the dialogue process between Belgrade and Pristina, which is fundamental to Kosovo’s future security, and to peace in the region.
“A salient feature of the consensus on which the EU-facilitated dialogue rests is the requirement for flexibility and innovation. All possibilities should be on the table, and should be debated openly, for this framework of discussion to make swifter and meaningful progress,” he said.
“At this moment, with electoral processes nearly concluded on both sides, it appears to be a propitious time to re-energize the talks and build new momentum. I believe this must remain a central objective on both the EU and UN agendas during the coming months, he added.
Talks with leaders continue
Mr. Tanin said that he had spoken to leaders representing “all parties, political stripes and communities” during the past weeks and months, something he will do much more of in the coming days.
Among the main concerns he heard were those which he said are familiar everywhere in post-conflict settings: the need for economic opportunity, positive future perspective for communities and families, better health care, and a clean environment.
“Real Kosovo politics are local,” he stressed. “What matters is how leaders, like those to whom I have spoken in various different municipalities, address the everyday needs of the people in their communities. How they understand their grievances; how they find solutions.”
Within Kosovo’s political sphere, the Special Representative said that continuing differences and debate remain essential, expressing hope that these debates will move into “acceptable channels, where they belong, and where leaders can best work toward meeting the real interests of people.”
“Whatever political reconfigurations may or may not be in the cards, what is more important is that Kosovo’s political actors act responsibly in taking on the issues that matter most for the future,” he said.
Pertinence of UN Mission
Turning to UNMIK, the Special Representative said: “Our mission remains unique, not only for what it is, but also for what it is not. UNMIK no longer administers Kosovo.”
Noting that UNMIK is not a parallel structure, Mr. Tanin stressed that the Mission is also not an obstacle to any objective, institution or individual.
“UNMIK remains important for the support and legitimacy it can provide; for the focus it can help to encourage; for the experience and know-how it freely shares; and for its role as a bridge between this noble Council and the people and communities of Kosovo and the region,” he said.
Indeed, UNMIK has been “assessing and recalibrating” its own use of resources to assist areas where they most directly promote the fulfilment of its mandate, such as on human rights issues, Mr. Tanin said.
He highlighted that UNMIK is also drawing on areas where expertise and resources from across the UN system can assist: with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), for example, and many bodies that are specialized in pressing issues; the just handling of migrant and refugee flows; and working to discourage young people from the paths that lead to violent extremism and terrorism.
“To work at its best, our mission depends upon the informed support of this Council, in order to work together with the leadership in both Pristina and Belgrade, as well as with the institutions of the European Union, to remain flexible and to adapt. With your support, this is where we intend to take this mission in the days ahead,” Mr. Tanin concluded.