Statement by President von der Leyen on the occasion of her official visit to Kosovo

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Wednesday, September 29 2021.

Thank you so much Prime Minister, dear Albin,

Thank you very much, first of all, to receive me here in Pristina in this beautiful kindergarten and to see what we have done together. This is a living symbol of the joint cooperation that we see here, to the benefit of the children. And it is not just a new building, but it is an investment in our children's education, our children's well-being. And it was heart-warming and really impressive to see how you filled this kindergarten with life.

And it is a symbol for the future that we are building together. And we want a future where Kosovo and all the Western Balkans are part of the European Union. That is what we are working for. It is a long way to go. We have come a long way. We have made a lot of progress. We never lose sight of the goal: That is all Western Balkans, Kosovo, part of the European Union. That is what we want.

And I think we owe it to the children that we have seen here, that we have met here in the kindergarten. We owe it to the children because it is their future and we want them to have a European future, indeed, as you said, based on values - that is how the European Union has been founded - and living and thriving on economic success. So topics that we have been discussing together.

We are already partnering, as you mentioned, dear Albin, in the fight against the pandemic. Our joint priorities are clear: We want to speed up vaccination in Kosovo and we want to ensure a lasting, a sustainable economic recovery.

Perhaps a few words, first of all, on vaccination. Indeed, Team Europe has donated over 387,000 vaccine doses to Kosovo so far, in addition to vaccines from COVAX. And more vaccine doses will be coming. Now we know that vaccine doses are important, but much more important is vaccination, so that people get vaccinated. That saves lives. And it is so important that you protect yourself, but that you also protect your beloved ones. What we do not want is a pandemic of the unvaccinated with all the risks of variants. Therefore, let us step up the efforts to increase the level of vaccination. I commend you for the achievements you have already realised. Indeed, this is respectable, but of course, we all know - the same goes for the European Union -, we still have to step up, with the Delta variant, the amount of vaccinations.

On the recovery: The European Union has already invested significantly to help address the emergency of the crisis. We mobilised EUR 3.3 billion of support for the region. Kosovo has received EUR 168 million in grants and financing, just to deal with the immediate consequences of the pandemic. So we know the topic, it is vital medical supplies, but it is also the wider regional economic recovery package or support for the healthcare system, which is so much needed.

Now, having done that and having said that, let us look forward to a more strategic investment. It is about ensuring a lasting recovery in Kosovo. Because just like in the European Union, the people of Kosovo, and especially the children we have seen, deserve a greener, they deserve a more digital, a more prosperous future with plenty of opportunities to succeed. You told me that Kosovo is a country of entrepreneurs and of people with a lot of entrepreneurship. You should really benefit from that with quality, well-paid jobs that are so important.

And this is what the economic and investment plan for the Western Balkans is all about. We have put EUR 9 billion on the table. And what we need now - and the process has already started - are quality, mature projects that you design, you propose. So it is a Kosovo-owned and designed process. With that, we can leverage up to EUR 20 billion more in investment.

The good news is, if you will look at this year, the plan has already allocated EUR 500 million and I am very pleased to announce that we will propose an additional EUR 600 million still for this year. So let us join forces that this plan is a success. And thank you for the long list of projects you have given me in our bilateral talk. There is a lot of good work to do.

Let me just highlight one or two of those projects. There is for example the support to the peace highway linking Pristina and Niš, in Serbia. I think, this is an important symbolic project. Another example is that we can support the ongoing works for the last section of Rail Route 10 and - very important for you - a wastewater treatment plant in Pristina. We have been discussing that in our bilateral meeting. So the economic and investment plan will bring growth and it will bring jobs to the region.

But it is also crucial to support the integration within the region. All six partners must move forward quickly on the common regional market. This is a precondition for growth and for a strong economic development. And it is key to get the maximal benefit from the economic and investment plan and to progress in the European integration process.

And perhaps a few words on this. It is, of course, a topic that we discussed at length, Albin. And it is so important that we move forward along the European path. It is vital that Kosovo and Serbia normalise their relations. We have been discussing the issues. I must say that I am very concerned about the current crisis. It is important to de-escalate and to return to the negotiating table to find a sustainable solution. And the only way to do that is the EU i-facilitated Dialogue. That is the only platform to resolve the current crisis. We will stay in touch, we have discussed that, because I want to see Kosovo progress and this is only possible through cooperation. So let us work together on that.

Finally, it is also crucial that Kosovo continues to consolidate the work on the fight against corruption and organised crime. I really commend you for the progress and the enormous amount of hard work you have invested in that. I commend you for that. And we fully support your government's commitment to move forward on reforms, also in the judiciary. These are far-reaching judicial reforms. They must be done in full respect of international and European standards.

I know that you are very committed to that, this is very good because there is still work to do. But with this, Prime Minister, dear Albin, let me tell you how much I am looking forward, not only having had the meeting here with you, but also next week to meet you again at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Slovenia. There, we have also a lot of progress and deliverables to discuss.

There is one last point: I want you, I want Kosovo to fully take part in the Conference on the Future of Europe because Kosovo has an important contribution to make. And we want to hear the voice of the people, we want to hear the voice of those who want to shape the future of Europe. So we want you also in the Conference on the Future of Europe, because that is where you belong to.

Thank you.