April 6, 2021 | Tuesday
On the occasion of marking the 5th anniversary of the entry into force of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), Europe House interviewed the Executive Director of the European Policy Institute of Kosovo (EPIK), Mr. Demush Shasha.
What is Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) in a nutshell?
Demush Shasha: Stabilization and Association Agreement is important in two ways, as it was historic and tremendous important. Historic because every country in the Western Balkans had to sign, on its journey from the start to EU membership, only two documents with the European Union officially. The first document is Stabilization and Association Agreement, and the second document is Accession Treaty, which means that a country must sign the Accession Treaty few days before becoming a EU member.
To make it more simple, Stabilization and Association Agreement regulates every pore of our society and affects every citizen of Kosovo, and is therefore important. As an example, the SAA affects the air we breathe every day, because it requires that the air is improved and brought closer to EU standards. It also requires that children’s games are in line with the EU standards and so on.
How important is such an agreement for Kosovo?
Demush Shasha: The SAA is politically and economically important for Kosovo. Politically because until the agreement was signed, Kosovo had no formal relations with the EU. By signing the agreement, we have become equal with all other countries in the region. So, the SAA has laid the foundations of our accession to the European Union. The SAA is economically important because it has opened a market of 500 million inhabitants or the largest trading bloc in the world to the local producers. On the other hand, it has made sure that all trade barriers to the people are removed and, as a result, the products produced in the EU will be cheaper to buy in Kosovo, because tariffs and administrative barriers were removed.
How much has Kosovo benefited from it and in which sectors?
Demush Shasha: Benefits from the SAA come from many directions. Let us dwell a little on political and financial ones. In political terms, once the SAA was signed, the message that was conveyed in international relations was that Kosovo now has a different international quality from the one it had when there was no Stabilization and Association Agreement. So, now that the SAA was signed, Kosovo’s international status in relation to third partners in the international scene has advanced. This is why it is important in the political sense and, consequently, it has a an economic impact, because businesses that consider investing in Kosovo, now that the SAA was reached, feel safer to invest in Kosovo, because SAA consists in a number of safeguards for businesses. In financial terms, since SAA has become effective, Kosovo has received around 500 million euros of EU assistance in various infrastructure projects and assistance to institutions to improve the services provided to the citizens. As an example, an enormous investment with EU funds is being made in the rehabilitation of the Kosovo B Power Station, which remains one of the biggest air polluters in Europe.
The SAA contains 10 titles or chapters. In which chapters was more progress made?
Demush Shasha: Progress was made in a number of areas. We may consider democracy or elections as success stories. If we make a comparison with the period prior the entry into force of the SAA, we can say with complete certainty that Kosovo has made significant progress in terms of democratic processes in Kosovo. Other technical areas in which Kosovo has made progress and which were confirmed by the European Commission in its Progress Report are: customs policies, taxation, enterprise law, statistics and approximation of Kosovo’s foreign policy with with EU foreign policy. So these are the areas in which the European Commission has considered that Kosovo has made progress over the past 5 years.
In what areas should Kosovo government focus to meet the commitments made in the agreement?
Demush Shasha: The European Union has made it clear that key priorities regarding Kosovo and the entire Western Balkans involve three main pillars. The first is rule of law, so Kosovo must make a significant progress as regards rule of law. The second is economic reforms i.e. reforms that will allow Kosovo to get integrated into the EU internal market. And the third is good neighbourliness or dialogue with Serbia.
How much has SAA managed to bring Kosovo closer to the EU?
Demush Shasha: The SAA has provided the political and legal framework to integrate Kosovo into the EU. Now Kosovo has to do the homework. Kosovo must now prove with results and facts that it has made progress in implementing the SAA. Accordingly, Kosovo should use this opportunity offered by the SAA and move ahead on its path, by making progress in rule of law, economic reforms and good neighbourliness and dialogue with Serbia. Now we must, not only for the sake of the EU, but for the sake of our citizens, make all those reforms, from the rule of law to the quality of education provided in our schools.