Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth was in Pristina from 21 to 22 April together with the French Minister of State for European Affairs Harlem Désir. Germany and France were among the first countries to recognise Kosovo as an independent state. The visit by Roth and Désir was a show of solidarity with the Western Balkan country. In numerous political talks, as well as in discussions with civil society and students, the two men demonstrated that their two countries are the embodiment of successful reconciliation, and underscored that talk of Kosovo enhancing its ties with the EU was no mere lip service.
European values are non-negotiable
"We will stand by our word that the countries of the Western Balkans have an EU perspective. The stabilisation and association agreement concluded recently with the EU is an important step which underscores this commitment, and which should above all bring tangible benefits for the people. However, much remains to be done. The Western Balkan countries have to take firmer action against corruption and organised crime, and have to be committed to our values. Democracy, the rule of law and our fundamental rights, including the protection of minorities, are non-negotiable. The EU is after all a union of shared values, not just a single market," Roth said.
Civil society participation is part of democratisation
The visit started with a meeting with President Thaci of Kosovo. Thereafter followed talks with Prime Minister Mustafa and Foreign Minister Selimi, as well as the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Enver Hoxhaj. Roth and Désir not only spoke with the Kosovar Minister for Europe Bekim Collaku but also held a joint press conference with him. Roth stressed that the political crisis in the country would have to be overcome by means of serious political dialogue.
"The citizens of Kosovo deserve political leaders who bring progress to the country. Democratic debate between the government and the opposition, as well as the involvement of civil society, are part of the process of democratisation. This cannot succeed without an active and lively debate in society," Roth stated.
Supporting and promoting regional cooperation
Roth and Désir also met with civil society representatives and discussed various issues with students. "Soon there will be a regional youth office for the Western Balkans modelled on the Franco-German Youth Office. I am especially happy about that. People continue to have great hopes of the European project. Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe. Its people need a perspective for the future. There is great potential, but it is above all jobs that are needed," Roth remarked.
The German Government launched the Western Balkan Process in Berlin in 2014, above all to support and promote regional cooperation. The next conference will be held in Paris this August. "Regional cooperation at both economic and at political and social level is of crucial importance for the Western Balkans. We are supporting the implementation of agreed projects with this series of conferences. In addition, dialogue with Serbia is of special significance for Kosovo. We have made good progress, but both sides have to continue determinedly down this path so that reconciliation takes root and partnership grows," said Roth.
Protection of minorities as a fundamental right
Before taking part in the joint programme, Roth met with women active in Kosovar politics and discussed gender equity with them. He also visited a project called "Voice for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians". He not only learned about the situation of the Roma minority, but also talked to Roma schoolchildren. "The Roma minority belongs in the midst of our society in Europe, not on its margins. Education is the key tool for combating poverty and marginalisation. I am therefore glad that there are projects like this, which enable young people to get an education and so give them hope and opportunities," said Roth.