Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Gospel of Thaci

Kosovo is ready

By Hashim Thaci
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Independence is here. In close coordination with our U.S. and EU allies, my government and the Kosovo Parliament will declare it in days. We have negotiated with Belgrade and the international community for almost two years. Some progress has been made on some important issues, like the return of refugees, decentralization and cultural heritage. But we have failed to make any progress on the fundamental point, the future of Kosovo.

Now we are turning to a new beginning. An independent Kosovo is a fact. Serbia and Kosovo have a common future as two independent countries in the European Union. It is our goal to work closely with Serbia and other neighbors in order to receive the full benefits of regional cooperation and European integration. Kosovo is confident because we know we are headed toward the European Union. The re-election of President Boris Tadic suggests this is also Serbia's direction. This is a positive development for the region.

Kosovo has come a long way since 1999, when NATO intervened to stop Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo is a temporary set-up that has helped us build and develop our own institutional capacity. Kosovo is obliged to the good job done by the international community thus far, which made it possible for Kosovo to be ready for self-governance.

Moreover, we have a plan. First, we need independence declared and recognized. The phase of convincing is over. We have proved that we can be a responsible partner and are serious about a multi-ethnic future. The international community, except for a few countries, has come to understand and support our legitimate right to be an independent state. I am confident that Kosovo will be recognized by a majority of European countries and the United States immediately after we declare independence.

But we need more than independence. We need economic, social and political development. After independence we are responsible for Kosovo. This is a massive mental shift, which Kosovo will have to make very soon. The way we live from here on will depend on how well we manage development. Responsible governance is tied in principle to having a vision and the rule of law. My government is fully committed to this goal.

Hence, my third point: the need to chart a vision for Kosovo. First, there is the regional dimension. Kosovo will invest in becoming a link between Serbia, Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. We have the geographic location to become a regional hub. We will upgrade our roads, airport and rail lines. We are eager to capitalize on the potential cargo trade. We are ready to invest in building logistic centers near Pristina, coupled with tax-free industrial parks.
Promoting open borders and the free flow of goods, capital and labor will be a priority of my government. This is also good news for our Serbian minority. We want our citizens to be able to travel freely, and to trade, first regionally, and later within the EU borders.
Kosovo Serbs are part of our system. We are ready to move with them to build a future founded on European values and European institutions.

My government's vision for integrating the Serbs is aligned with the proposals made in the Ahtisaari plan - we are committed to decentralization, affirmative action, property rights and favorable representation in the government for the Serbs, and to protecting the rights of Serbs to run their local affairs. I am determined to set up a special office for promotion of minority rights in my government.

The population of Kosovo is young, a major asset for a continent that faces a retirement crisis. With independence investor confidence should return. We are preparing a number of stimulants to attract businesses, including tax incentives, zero-tolerance on corruption, and promoting law and order.

Europe is welcomed in Kosovo. I say this on behalf of our citizens, who overwhelmingly endorse Kosovo's European future. Kosovo will be a success story if we are realistic and inclusive. We want reforms for the good of Kosovo. Independence and reform are our gateway to Europe.

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