2015 in Kosovo was a year of both success and challenges. Let me start with the good news. Years of tough negotiations bore fruit in October as Kosovo and the EU signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement, the first contractual arrangement for any state seeking to join the European Union. In July, Kosovo and the International Monetary Fund concluded a new stand-by arrangement that provides for growth-enhancing capital spending and advances key economic reforms. In August, the EU facilitated four agreements with Serbia regarding energy, telecommunications, the establishment of an association of Serb-majority municipalities, and freedom of movement. In December, the Millennium Challenge Corporation announced that Kosovo is eligible for a compact program that will help transform the country by funding programs to create jobs and combat corruption. These are all important developments that will help provide Kosovo a brighter future.
The challenges are obvious to all of us: unemployment continues to constrain the potential of Kosovo’s citizens, particularly its youth. Integration with Europe is going more slowly than most would like. Corruption continues to reduce citizens’ faith in government and limit the investment needed for real economic growth. Last but not least, some members of parliament have again and again violated the basic principles of democratic debate and instead used pepper spray and tear gas to impede the Assembly from working on behalf of Kosovo’s citizens.
At the dawn of 2016, Kosovo must decide what path it will follow. Will it continue on its path to European integration by building its democracy? This will require the public to say “enough” and insist on action against corruption. It will require difficult but necessary steps to encourage economic growth. It will also require better relationships with Kosovo’s neighbors, including Serbia. Or will Kosovo follow another path, one towards nationalism, xenophobia, and stagnation? I hope it chooses the former.
Progress towards the future requires Kosovo’s democratic institutions to function. Democracy can serve the people only when its institutions are strong, and its leaders cooperate and compromise. Businesses will invest in Kosovo only when they are confident the rule of law will be respected and that corruption will not be tolerated. Unfortunately, when the world looks at Kosovo these days, it doesn’t see functioning institutions. It sees clouds of tear gas in the Assembly and Molotov cocktails in Mother Teresa Square. No one should be under any illusions–the violence in the Assembly has no place in a democracy. It impedes economic progress and damages Kosovo’s international reputation. I hope those who are attacking Kosovo’s democracy for their own ends will re-evaluate their actions in the New Year. I hope they will come clean with the people of Kosovo about their real objectives. I hope they will accept the offers of dialogue that have been repeatedly offered and ignored.
The United States continues to believe that Kosovo will achieve full integration in the European Union, NATO, and the United Nations. To get there, it will need to normalize relations with its neighbors, including Serbia. We believe the best way to do so is to continue to negotiate and implement agreements through the EU-facilitated dialogue talks, which have already brought Kosovo numerous concrete benefits. We understand how difficult the dialogue is for all sides, but as Secretary Kerry noted during his visit, “the ability to make the hard decisions that are necessary for the greater good of the country is called leadership.”
Secretary Kerry also sent a clear message that the United States will not support any steps that impinge upon Kosovo’s sovereignty or territorial integrity. Today, as we look to the New Year, I reiterate that promise. The United States values its partnership with Kosovo and is proud of what we have accomplished together. We believe in Kosovo’s future, and we look forward to working with Kosovo’s people, leaders, government, and civil society to write an even better story in 2016.