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News 28 Oct 13

Kosovo Launches Crucial SAA Talks With EU

Pristina and Brussels have begun talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement - the first step towards EU membership discussions in the future.

BIRN
Pristina

The first Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) talks with the European Commission opened on Monday in Pristina, as Kosovo began the complex process of reforming its legislation to meet Brussels’ standards.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and other top Kosovo officials met a delegation from Brussels led by Joost Korte, deputy director general at the Directorate General Enlargement, and discussed issues related to trade liberalisation and the internal market at the inaugural meeting.

“Today we did three chapters of the agreement and there will be another four or five to be done [at the next meeting] on November 27. By then we will have completed in fact almost the whole draft agreement,” Korte said.

EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule welcomed the first day of the talks.

“With the start of the SAA negotiations, we turn a new page in our relationship,” Fule said in a statement on Monday.

“Kosovo needs to confirm and explain its negotiating position. It also needs to continue to work on the eight other priority areas identified in our feasibility study so that it will be able implement the SAA and meet the obligations this will entail. I am confident Kosovo can successfully meet this exciting new challenge,” he added.

The EU aims to complete SAA negotiations with Kosovo in spring of next year, while it expects to sign the agreement by summer of 2014.

“This will be a long road, but the dynamics of the process will depend on our ability to fulfill necessary criteria,” said Vlora Citaku, Pristina’s European integration minister.

Kosovo’s SAA negotiations with the EU will be led by Citaku, but six other ministers (foreign affairs, justice, finance, trade, agriculture and economic development) are also part of the team.

Gezim Kasapolli, deputy minister of European integration, will deal with legislation and cooperation issues with the EU, while Bernard Nikaj, deputy minister for trade and industry, is mandated to negotiate trade issues with Brussels.

Among western Balkan states, Kosovo remains the last in line for EU integration because five out of 28 of the European club’s members do not recognise its independence: Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Greece and Romania.

Korte however stressed that Kosovo’s SAA “will be an EU-only agreement”.

“We will not be asking individual member states to specifically sign the agreement. It will be signed on behalf of the European Union,” he explained.

EU officials have stressed that Pristina has many reforms to implement.

This year’s EU progress report on Kosovo urged it to focus on “the rule of law, judiciary, public administration, electoral reform and the assembly, human and fundamental rights, protection of minorities, trade and internal market issues, and phytosanitary and veterinary issues”.

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