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Delegation from Kosovo warn about continued risk of destabilisation in Western Balkans

BGIPU was pleased to welcome a delegation from the Republic of Kosovo from 18 to 22 March 2024. The visit was led by Ms Arbëreshë Kryeziu Hyseni, Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Committee, who was accompanied by Ms Fitore Pacolli Dalipi MP, Mr Gazmend Gjyshinca MP, Ms Time Kadrija MP, and supported by Mr Manush Krasniqi from the Parliamentary Committee. Ambassador H.E. Ilir Kapiti and his team at the Embassy of Kosovo in London, alongside the British Embassy in Pristina, also provided much valued support for the visit.

The visit was kickstarted with meetings with UK members of the NATO and Council of Europe Parliamentary Assemblies, where the delegation discussed the opportunities that Kosovo’s accession to multilateral organisations would provide, and as well as those seeking to impede their entry.

Lord Alderdice kindly hosted a welcome lunch with the delegation and several members of the Commons and Lords, where Northern Ireland and Kosovo’s shared experience as two post-conflict, divided societies was on the agenda. This discussion continued later in the afternoon when the delegation met Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, alongside Lord Alderdice and Stephen Farry MP. Ahead of the visit to Belfast later that week, the parliamentarians spoke about the political and social challenges Northern Ireland has faced since the Troubles, stressing that difficult compromises had to be made to establish peace in the region.

The delegation then met with several cross-party parliamentarians with an interest in Kosovo and the Western Balkans, chaired by the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief Fiona Bruce MP. The discussion focused on what the UK could do to help persuade the remaining 5 members of the EU yet to recognise the Republic of Kosovo. The delegation also talked about significant progress made regarding visa liberalisation, including the recent agreement with Spain.

Tuesday concluded with a courtesy call with Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans, where he spoke about his experience on the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, and his concerns about malicious forces in the wider Western Balkan region.

The delegation’s first meeting on Wednesday was with the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee, chaired by the 10th Secretary General of the NATO Lord Robertson. A wide range of topics were discussed, with committee members particularly interested in the steps being taken to counter youth unemployment, the impact of Russian disinformation, and political participation amongst the Serbian minority.

The meeting was following by Women and Equalities Questions and Prime Minister’s Questions in the Chamber of the House of Commons. The delegation noted how the British Prime Minister is held to account by Parliament on a weekly basis, and remarked that this differs greatly from the Kosovo parliamentary system, where opportunities to address the leader are much more seldom.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Alicia Kearns MP hosted the delegation for a working lunch, where the recent flare ups with paramilitaries in the North of Kosovo were discussed, amongst other relevant issues.

The final day of the visit was spent in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The morning was spent at the Northern Ireland Assembly on the Stormont Estate, where the delegation received an overview of the devolved, power-sharing governance system. The Speaker of the Assembly, Edwin Poots MLA, made a courtesy call with the guests, and shared his advice that reconciliation in post-conflict societies was often most important and meaningful when carried out at grassroots level.

The delegation then met with a group of cross-party MLAs, including UUP leader Doug Beattie, DUP’s Diane Dodds, Alliance’s Stewart Dickson and SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan. Mr Beattie spoke about his experience as a soldier deployed to Kosovo during the conflict in the 90s, whilst Mr Dickson discussed his experience as a member of the delegation of UK to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities within the Council of Europe. The delegation spoke to the members about how Kosovo had developed the healthiest democracy of the region, and expressed their belief that the European Union had undervalued this, favouring neighbouring stable autocracies instead. The meeting concluded on how accommodation and respect for difference in opinion ultimately led the way to the Good Friday Agreement and enduring peace in Northern Ireland.

The delegation then paid a visit to Queen’s University Belfast, where members of the Shared Education Centre spoke about their efforts to make the previously closed borders of segregated schools more porous and increase integration between the historically separate religious schooling systems in Northern Ireland. Academics also spoke about several initiatives and models that have been piloted in other ethnically divided countries, including Kosovo, North Macedonia and South Africa.

The delegation concluded the visit with a meeting with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, where they learned about how the service was formed following the Good Friday Agreement and policies implemented to improve representation and community engagement.

The visit was a great success and served to strengthen the already very close ties between our parliaments, with a commitment on both sides to carry on this important exchange.

BGIPU Secretariat