Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Independence for Kosovo by Agim Ceku - The Wall Street Journal

Pristina -- Just as it seemed that the Balkans were finally turning the corner, we are instead entering another period of stagnation, delay and uncertainty. A United Nations decision on Kosovo's status, originally expected before the end of this year, has been postponed. The expectations in Kosovo are high. Kosovo is hungry for independence, Kosovo is ready for independence, and now is not the time to stop the clock.

We need to keep the process of statehood on track. Kosovo needs clarity to complete reforms and to attract vital international investments, but also so that our people -- and especially our Serb minority -- can escape the debilitating worries and uncertainty and start to build a future. Their home and future are in Kosovo.

There are two things we must do in Kosovo to succeed as a progressive and a modern independent state. First, we should further improve our institutions to achieve more transparency and a functioning legal system. Second, we need a broad political commitment to development and modernization.

Independence is only the first step and, in itself, is insufficient to provide for Kosovo's future. Kosovo needs a clear perspective for European Union membership. We can only succeed within this framework. This above all means prioritizing economic revitalization in the post-independence period. Nothing short of an economic boom will get us up to speed; the EU train will not wait for Kosovo, or the rest of the region for that matter. The biggest problem in the Western Balkans is economic malaise.

It is the Kosovars, not Belgrade, who have a real interest and stake in seeing Kosovo succeed. Moderate Serbs have long lost interest in Kosovo. Only those desperate for cheap, nationalist rhetorical points claim to care about it. Belgrade offers no vision, no economic or European agenda to the people of Kosovo. Increasing numbers of Serbs, especially those living in Kosovo, are beginning to see beyond this bankrupt world view.

I have no doubt that seeing Kosovo become independent will be a difficult new reality for Serbia. But it is the only way. Belgrade is not interested in investing in the development of Kosovo, and Kosovo is not interested in a political union with Serbia. But we are interested in developing a productive bilateral partnership with Serbia, just as we're doing with our other neighbors.

Social and economic progress in the region will be the big losers if we don't make the bold step forward to independence. The entire Western Balkan region needs a kick start in order to catch the EU train and catch up with the awesome economic growth of our EU-bound neighbors Romania and Bulgaria. This is the only way forward and the only way into the EU. Globalization is a reality which won't pause so we can get ready. The pace is being set in Asia, but transition will have to happen here in the Western Balkans if we wish to compete.

Most of us in the Balkans share a common vision about our future -- we want to get into the EU as fast as possible. The way to do it is through reforms. This wasn't an easy process for the Baltic countries. It wasn't easy for Eastern and Central Europe. And it won't be easy for the Balkan states either. The region needs to find its comparative advantage in Europe and in the global market. It will do so as soon as we settle the final status of Kosovo.

Can Kosovo survive? Sure. If we reform, we'll do very well. My government has adopted a proactive "3E" plan for Kosovo based on energy, economy and education. With large deposits of coal, Kosovo can in a few years become a net electricity exporter. With the right technology we can even do this with an environmental face.

The economy is picking up. There is no currency risk in Kosovo now that we've adopted the euro. We have privatized around 90% of the asset value of all state-owned enterprises. The financial sector has already been privatized, and we are now attracting new investments into the telecom and energy sectors. Much remains to be done, including cleaning up corruption in the courts, but we're on the right track.

We have a young population and a positive birth rate. Given the shortages in the EU labor market due to negative demographic trends, Kosovo can help fill the void. To do so, we need to retrain our work force. Hence we're now investing in education.

The EU is facing a crisis, and it needs time to consolidate and reset its internal political balances. However, this is no reason to lose sight of its strategic goal: a Europe whole and free. Right now this is still not the reality, at least not in the Western Balkans.


Mr. Ceku is the prime minister of Kosovo.

1 comment:

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