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President of Assembly of Kosovo and delegation discuss EU, Recognition and progress in UK

The British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (BGIPU) hosted a parliamentary delegation from Kosovo to Westminster from 29 October to 2 November 2012. The delegation comprised: HE Dr Jakup Krasniqi, President (Speaker) of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo, Mr Glauk Konjufca, Vice-President of the Assembly, Group Vetevendosje (VV), Mr Zenun Pajaziti, Chairperson of the Committee for Economic Development, Infrastructure, Trade and Industry, Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), Ms Vjosa Osmani, Member of the Committee for Eureopean Integration, Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and Mrs Jasmina Zivkovic, Member of the Committee on Rights, Interests of Communities, and returns, and Committee on Legislation, Independent Liberal Party (SLS).  The delegation was accompanied by Mr Mehmet Hajrizi, Chief of Cabinet to the President of the Assembly, Mr Skender Recica, Adviser for Protocol and International Relations to the President of the Assembly and Mr Gezim Vllasaliu, Supporting Official.  Mr  Bejtullah Destani, Charge d’Affaires and Arion Krasniqi, First Secretary from the Embassy of Kosovo to the United Kingdom also participated in visit activities and worked closely with BGIPU staff on all arrangements.

there was deep appreciation & recognition of the role the UK had played in supporting Kosovo.  In return, the Kosovo Assembly placed significant value on this very strong bilateral relationship in all areas.”

After introductory briefings, the delegation met with The Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza, to discuss Kosovo’s progress in attaining international recognition, its aspirations for EU membership and achievements in addressing political and economic challenges facing the country.  The Assembly President expressed deep gratitude for the UK’s support for Kosovo from the very outset of its formation as a sovereign state.  Baroness D’Souza also noted the support the House of Lords had been providing under EU twinning arrangements to provide capacity building assistance to the Assembly which Dr Krasniqi warmly acknowledged.  This call was followed by a working lunch with a representative group of MPs from all parties and both Houses hosted by Mr Mark Pritchard MP which included detailed discussions on international recognition, EU and NATO aspirations, democratic reforms in Kosovo and the importance of addressing the needs of the country’s diverse communities, including ethnic minorities.

Following up from the earlier meeting with the Lord Speaker, the delegation met with a number of Clerks of the House of Lords who were involved in the EU twinning project to discuss the assistance provided to date and plans for the future.  The Clerks expressed appreciation for the opportunity to discuss their work with a representative cross-party group of Kosovo MPs, noting the comments provided confirmed key assessments on where further capacity building would be beneficial, particularly regarding research assistance to parliamentarians.  Drawing on the UK’s experiences in Northern Ireland, the delegation also had a rich discussion on conflict resolution and reconciliation with Lord Dubs and Mr Mark Durkan MP before a well-attended Welcome Reception hosted by the BGIPU Chair, Mr Robert Walter MP.

Over the next two days in Parliament, the delegation also met with BGIPU Treasurer and Foreign Affairs Committee Member, Mike Gapes, where they discussed Kosovo’s efforts to lobby for wider international recognition and how aspirations for EU and NATO membership were complicated by 5 EU members (Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus) not yet recognising Kosovo’s sovereign independence.  The delegation also highlighted its strong interest in pursuing IPU membership for the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo.  In a subsequent meeting with the Minister for Europe, David Lidington MP, he confirmed the UK’s strong and continuing support for Kosovo’s aspirations for international recognition and European integration and confirmed the UK had and would continue to make clear to Serbia that its own EU aspirations were directly tied to its ability to address constructively its relations with Kosovo.  In addition the delegation was welcomed by Mr Speaker who echoed the commitment of the UK to Kosovo’s recognition and progress. The Kosovo delegation said full normalisation of its relations with Serbia was a key priority but this could only happen with constructive effort from both sides.

In other meetings, the delegation had valuable discussions with a wide range of interested MPs and Peers, including a roundtable with Kosovo APPG members chaired by Sir Tony Baldry MP, a meeting with the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee C chaired by Lord Teverson and working lunches hosted by Lord Bowness and Mr Fabian Hamilton MP.  In all these contexts, the UK Parliament’s continuing bipartisan support for Kosovo’s aspirations was repeated, as was strong interest in expanding trade and investment and people to people linkages, including education exchanges.  These meetings also included detailed discussions on the way forward in strengthening bilateral trade and investment and explored key issues facing Kosovo in pursuing its aspirations for integration in Europe and greater recognition globally.

During the APPG meeting, recalling recent debate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the issue of civilians still missing from the Kosovo conflict was discussed, including the need to urgently and constructively address the needs of families which suffered losses on both sides.  This was recognised as a vital confidence building task for both Kosovo and Serbia alike.  APPG members also said that while Kosovo was clearly a European nation entitled to seek EU membership, a lack of recognition by some key EU members remained an impediment and the EU, overall, must also take decisive steps on a comprehensive and cohesive approach and timeframe for the accession of states in the Western Balkans region.

Overall, the key message conveyed by the Assembly President and his delegation members was that there was deep appreciation and recognition of the role the UK had played in supporting Kosovo.  In return, the Kosovo Assembly, on a bipartisan basis, placed significant value on this very strong bilateral relationship in all areas.  While Kosovo acknowledged it had work to do on political and economic reform to meet the standards required for entry to the EU, as noted in the recent EU feasibility study, it would address these issues willingly and openly.  All UK interlocutors likewise confirmed their willingness to continue to support its efforts, including through advocating its case to other EU members and globally, and to continue to provide practical assistance when required, including to the Assembly itself.

Following this intensive Westminster programme, the delegation visited Sheffield as an opportunity to build upon the strong connection with the city based upon recent trade delegations and local links, including in the resource sector. Sheffield City Council hosted the delegation in the Town Hall and discussed key aspects of local governance and regional issues. The extensive programme allowed the delegation to learn how local government in the UK operates and also discussed the contrasting local governance systems in the two countries. The exchanges with the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, John Campbell, local Councillors and officials provided valuable perspectives, to the benefit of both sides. The delegations also met with local MPs to discuss the roles and responsibilities of Parliamentarians in the UK as constituency representatives in contrast with the Kosovan system which does not operate on a constituency basis.

The BGIPU is grateful to all who contributed to the success of this visit, particularly the BGIPU Chair, Executive Committee and other members who hosted key events, as well as Clerks and other parliamentary staff who provided briefings.  We also express our deep gratitude to the former Ambassador H.E. Dr. Muhamet Hamiti, Charge d’affaires Mr Bejtullah Destani and Mr Arion Krasniqi of the Kosovo Embassy in the UK for their invaluable assistance with this delegation visit.