Ambassador Delawie’s Interview with RTV 21 for Kosovo’s Independence Day, February 14, 2018
RTV 21: Welcome to our studio!
Ambassador Delawie: Thank you, it is great to be here.
RTV 21: It is 10 years of independence, a decade of statehood. Looking back, would you consider Kosovo a story of success?
Ambassador Delawie: Absolutely yes. Kosovo has consolidated a democratic state. It has developed institutions, it has developed European-style laws. It has a European-style constitution. There has been economic growth and Kosovo’s name is on the world stage via Kosovo figures like Dua Lipa and Majlinda Kelmendi, things like that.
Now, the story is not done. Kosovo has a way to go yet. It has to fit in with other European nations and it has to work on important projects like improving rule of law, and creating a more investor-friendly economy to attract investment from abroad and from domestic sources both to help create jobs and deal with the unemployment issue.
To summarize, yes, definitely a success but also, further to go.
RTV 21: A new decade is such an event that people do recaps and roundups of success. What would your key message be for the 10th year of independence?
Ambassador Delawie: First of all, the U.S. commitment to Kosovo as an independent state and its success in Europe remains absolutely solid and firm. I delivered a letter from President Trump to President Thaci that made those points. We have senior American officials like our Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley talk about this frequently. The U.S. commitment remains solid, that is the first part of the message.
The second part of the message is the government has to focus more on tackling difficult problems. This is for the benefit of Kosovo’s people and for the benefit of Kosovo’s future. Let’s say the first decade Kosovo built the state, and that was a great achievement. The second decade, Kosovo has to fit in better with Europe, it has to be ready to join the key European clubs, and it has to work on these important issues like rule of law and economic development.
RTV 21: You have mentioned rule of law twice already and it is something that has been repeated as a firm request from EU and US toward Kosovo government. Also there is a lot of talk about fighting corruption. Would you say we have failed in that regard or are doing well? Any progress that you would outline, having the anniversary in mind?
Ambassador Delawie: There has been progress but it is not complete. Rule of law is the defining issue for Kosovo’s future. Unless you get that straight, other things don’t really matter. Other important projects like unemployment and things like that will not be dealt with appropriately. Kosovo citizens expect to live in a country like any other European country. A country where your success depends on your personal character and what you can bring to society, to a job, rather than who you know or what party you belong to. Kosovo’s youth deserve to inherit that kind of country and I would certainly call on all of Kosovo’s leaders, both in the government, civil society and the Assembly, to try to deliver that kind of future to them.
RTV 21: The topic of the week last week was an EU document published, the strategy for the Western Balkans. It has been criticized from the Kosovo government for its content. The government feels that Kosovo has not been treated fairly compared to other countries in the Western Balkans. What is your read on the document?
Ambassador Delawie: I see a lot of positives in it for Kosovo. The first and the most important positive for Kosovo is that it says that all the countries of the Western Balkans, which clearly includes Kosovo, will be able to join the European Union. That is a big positive. It also says success in that endeavor is up to the leaders of the countries. It said that none of the countries are ready to do that today, but if they do what they are supposed to do, they will be ready to do that tomorrow.
Leaders need to take responsibility to deliver the changes the EU expects. I have to point out that there is nothing in the EU document, as far as requests for Kosovo, that Kosovo should not do only for its own citizens, apart from the EU membership. Everything they suggest for Kosovo, Kosovo should do any way for the benefit of its future, for the benefit of its citizens.
It also said that success in the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue is an essential element for both countries to make progress on their European ambitions. I think that is important. The EU Special Representative Apostolova said in an interview last week that there is an urgency to achieving a Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue solution. She said, pretty clearly I thought, that countries can’t negotiate about this forever and sign the day before EU membership.
RTV 21: Actually, the same document puts 2025 as something of a benchmark for Serbia’s eventual accession to EU. 2025 is the date for Montenegro as well. The other countries of the Western Balkans do not have this deadline. That has to mean that the Dialogue would be concluded soon, event potentially next year. Would that be a final milestone or solution in Kosovo and Serbia relations, or will that just be another step in the process and it will be an ongoing process toward the EU accession?
Ambassador Delawie: You have to ask the EU about the timelines, that is not my club. But, once again I have read the document carefully and I think there are very important elements for Kosovo that are positive. The EU document clearly said that the EU will not import bilateral problems between member states. It said Kosovo and Serbia have to have a binding deal, and they need to do it urgently. Regarding the timeline, not my business. But as a true friend of Kosovo, I don’t want to see Kosovo left behind. Kosovo needs to work on this project- the relationship with Serbia. It has to do it for its own interests, but it also has to do it to fulfill its EU ambitions.
RTV 21: There is a lot of talk about inclusion of the US in the Dialogue process. Is that just wishful thinking? Has there been any formal request or contact? Is that something the US is considering?
Ambassador Delawie: The US will be actively involved in the Dialogue. The EU is in charge of negotiating, but we will support it strongly. We have in fact over the years contributed to some of the successful elements that came out of the Dialogue already, like border management in the north and customs duties, judicial integration in the north, things like that. We have played I believe an important role. We talk about Dialogue issues with the Kosovo government here, with the Serbian government in Belgrade and with the EU leadership in Brussels. We will continue to be involved in that because we think we can make an important contribution to both countries’ efforts to achieve their goals of integration into European institutions.
RTV 21: To further define it, you do not see a change in format of the Dialogue as something feasible or doable next year?
Ambassador Delawie: The format I think has to be up to the EU as the main facilitator of this. Whatever the format is, we will help support. We will participate, we will encourage compromise that benefits both countries and we will try to make progress.
RTV 21: I will get back to corruption and rule of law as there is also a pending issue, and it is visa liberalization. There are two conditions Kosovo must fulfill in order to get it, at least that is what we have been getting from Brussels. The first one is delivering a track record of cases that have been dealt with, which so far has not been given, and also there are no concrete numbers on that. And the Border Demarcation with Montenegro. Would you say that is somehow complicating the relations of Kosovo with the EU and the US?
Ambassador Delawie: I’d love to say no, but the obvious answer is yes. Certainly moving slowly on the border, moving less fast than Kosovo should on this track record on corruption, it complicates relations with Kosovo and its best partners. These are things that have to be dealt with. It is like I was saying before. These things need to be dealt with in Kosovo’s own interest, to make sure its young people have a true future as Europeans in Kosovo.
The border has just dragged on too long. It is a straightforward agreement. The line is the right line. It has been ratified by the Montenegrin Assembly, it needs to be ratified by the Kosovo Assembly. This minor issue has sucked up so much energy in the Kosovo political space that could have been used on truly important issues like education, like healthcare. In the last international assessment, the Kosovo education system came in number 70 out of 73 countries worldwide. If I were a parent in Kosovo I would say, politicians need to work on that issue. Kosovo is a European state, it needs to have a European style education system.
The track record on crime and corruption- there are specific things the EU is measuring there, I’m less familiar with that. But, dealing with the corruption issue as I said before is the defining element for Kosovo’s future. Kosovo has to do that in its own interests, it also has to do that for the EU and it should. It has to work harder on those issues.
RTV 21: There is a visit of the Montenegrin PM today and there are still efforts to conclude this thing between Kosovo and Montenegro, but if it is doesn’t succeed the issue will drag on. Do you see such a thing happening, and will that further complicate issues between the US and Kosovo?
Ambassador Delawie: I hope the Montenegrin Prime Minister’s visit goes well. I don’t know what will come out of it on the border. I do know that Kosovo has to deal with this issue, and the longer it waits to deal with the issue, the worse things are going to be for Kosovo. Not just its European path, not just its visa liberalization, but progress that everybody needs.
RTV 21: We’ve also had an event that many people interpreted as a stab in the back of relations between Kosovo and the US. It was the initiative to abrogate the law on Special Court. You personally mentioned individual consequences for MPs supporting the initiative. What individual consequences are we talking about?
Ambassador Delawie: That is a hypothetical question at this point, and the first thing they teach you in diplomat school is not to answer a hypothetical question. The Special Court is very important for Kosovo. It is not about Kosovo’s liberation struggle, it is not about whether the KLA was good or it was bad. It is about prosecuting crimes individuals committed against other individuals, of all ethnicities. It is very important- Kosovo committed to do this, to bring justice to the victims of that period and the United States feels very strongly that the Special Court should be allowed to complete its work.
RTV 21: It is still with the government, they have a deadline to proceed it in the Parliament. Is it still an active issue, is it something you are following?
Ambassador Delawie: I am paying very close attention. I continue to urge all government leaders to not make any progress on that law. I hope it goes away. It is not up to me to decide exactly how the initiative is put on ice but I think, once again, Kosovo’s politicians need to focus on issues that are truly important to the citizens of Kosovo.
RTV 21: One could say the political situation in Kosovo is foggy. We have also had a foggy environment overall. The air is polluted and it has been an issue. Most of the debates are sparked by U.S. Embassy because you are measuring the air quality. Is there anything the US can do besides measuring this and telling us in how bad conditions we live?
Ambassador Delawie: I’m really happy that we are able to provide Kosovo’s citizens with real data they can act on. I check our air monitor every day, everyone in our Embassy checks it every day. It doesn’t just provide bad news, it provides you with news that you can use. If the air is bad today, you know that maybe your children should play inside, rather than going outside. It gives you something you can do.
I think the civic activism that has arisen around the news about air pollution has been extremely positive for Kosovo. I’m from southern California. If you visit southern California today, you can breathe clean air and be satisfied, but when I was growing up that was not the case at all. What made a difference was civic activism. People looking at this orange layer of pollution above Los Angeles and saying, “I don’t want to live there, and I don’t want my children to grow up there.” Civic activism is very important to help leaders focus on, once again, issues that are important to Kosovo.
As far as help. We are doing some things in addition to just providing the bad news. The Millennium Challenge Corporation and USAID are working on renewable energy projects, are working to help support the expansion of the district heating system in Pristina and another city, I believe. We are trying to help develop a legal environment that makes it easier to use solar panels and things like that. We are helping to support a new power plant called Kosova e Re that would be a modern, European-style power plant that would meet all the emissions requirements. The hope is that Kosovo A, which is the most polluting big source in Kosovo, could be turned off once the Kosova e Re comes online and that would make a big reduction in the amount of pollution. But there are other things that have to be done. There has to be real science here because this is a scientific question. We have a machine that measures stuff but we don’t have environmental scientists to work on that issue, but Kosovo does and it can get help from partners.
RTV 21: This civic activism that you mention. Would you say that the government is taking the issue more seriously, or is still only public declarations and statements?
Ambassador Delawie: I think the civic activism needs to continue. I was happy to see the Parliament spend basically an entire day on the issue and come up with a plan. This is not a problem that is going to be solved overnight. Like other hard problems, it is going to be a multi-year problem. But, like Kosovo’s other problems, if you don’t start, you are never going to finish. There are so many facets to this problem. Home heating is a problem- people burning coal and wood in their homes is an element too, it is not just the power plants in Obiliq. It is not just the cars downtown. When you have a multifaceted problem, you need a multifaceted solution. I think it is very important for civil society, civic activists to help make sure that their leaders don’t forget this is an issue for them.
Ultimately in a democracy, and Kosovo is truly a democracy ten years after independence and that is one real positive thing I want to emphasize, politicians will respond to the citizens. Citizens have to make clear what they want.
RTV 21: We are ten years on, we will see how things progress and develop in the meantime. Thank you very much for your time and the interview.
Ambassador Delawie: Thank you very much, great to be with you.