I want to thank you for welcoming us back to the beautiful Brdo Pri Kranju. As the Brdo-Brijuni Process marks its 11th anniversary, I would like to thank President Pahor and President Milanović for their leadership and vision to bring the Western Balkans region closer to the European Union.
I believe that you all agree with the fact that President Pahor, in particular, has played an essential role in this initiative and that he is leaving behind an extraordinary legacy as a promoter of regional cooperation and the Euro-Atlantic future of our region.
At the origin of this initiative lies the aspiration to increase trust between the countries of the region and contribution to the enlargement of the European Union with the countries of the Western Balkans. Today, a decade later, this initiative remains as important as it was in its genesis.
For Kosovo, the future as a member of the European Union is a future that we will never give up. Although our region may have moved closer to the EU and we welcome the opening of negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, we strongly believe that the EU should accelerate the pace.
It should be clear to all of us that it is only a European future for countries that aspire and coordinate policies with the European Union, for countries that are promoting and believe in the values â€‹â€‹of the European Union, is the future that enables peace, stability and prosperity in the region and in Europe. I have said many times that there cannot be a whole, free, united and peaceful Europe without the Western Balkans as part of it. This is no longer a matter of meeting some technical criteria; this is a matter of fundamental importance in terms of geopolitics and security.
Whenever we talk or think about the European Union, we think about the values â€‹â€‹it represents and on which it is built. At their foundation lies respect for human rights and freedoms. Today those rights and freedoms continue to be denied to my people.
We are in the year 2022 and it has already been 4 years since the European Commission confirmed that Kosovo has met all the criteria for visa liberalization. However, citizens of the Republic of Kosovo are still denied the right to travel freely within the EU. As you can imagine, this limits their options and potential. But mostly this affects the feeling of freedom, as the foundation on which the EU stands. We hope that this injustice and discrimination will end soon. When I say: soon, I mean this year, during the Czech Presidency of the EU. We strongly believe in what the EU represents as a project of political integration. Therefore, we hope that the EU will stand up for what is right and keep its promise as its credibility is at stake.
A little over a year ago we met in the same place under challenging circumstances as a result of COVID-19. This year, as we hope that COVID-19 is a thing of the past, our continent is facing one of the greatest tragedies of our modern times.
Russia's illegal and unprovoked war on Ukraine is taking a great number of human lives. While we have said 'never again' many times, history is repeating itself again on European soil. What is happening in Ukraine is a clear indication that freedom and democracy can never be taken for granted. As a result, this shows us the importance of alliances built on common values â€‹â€‹and the urgency of their strengthening and further strengthening.
This is no time for hesitation or guesswork. This war marks the trial of our time. You cannot pretend to be a friend of Europe and a friend of Russia at the same time. You cannot be a genocide denier and at the same time claim to promote the spirit and actions of solidarity and empathy. You cannot shake hands with the victim and the aggressor at the same time. Today we either choose to be on the right side of history or we are not, and there is no acceptable middle ground.
In the face of Russia's aggression and hegemonic appetites, we cannot and must not remain passive or silent. I could not find more appropriate words than the words of President Clinton in 1999 when he spoke about what was happening in our region. He said: “Hesitating in moments when faced with an aggressor is equivalent to the act of giving permission to kill.”
Therefore, the Republic of Kosovo has immediately coordinated the sanctions against Russia with those of the European Union and the United States. We know very well the tremendous suffering that wars bring; therefore we choose to promote and defend freedom. We know very well the feeling of being a victim of aggression and genocide; therefore we choose to promote and protect the peace.
We know well the feeling of injustice, discrimination and oppression; therefore we choose democracy and respect for human rights.
Changes in our continent's security architecture require bold, wise and timely action. The Euro-Atlantic Alliance has served as a guarantor and guardian of peace and stability on both sides of the ocean and in our region. NATO means security and security means development and prosperity. The more NATO's presence in our region has expanded, the stronger and more stable the security layer has become and the greater the contribution to peace and stability.
Russia's illegal war on Ukraine is also affecting our energy and food security. Today, we face the prospect of a seriously challenging winter. As the days grow colder and winter approaches, the possibility of serious challenges to our energy systems becomes an ever greater threat. The European energy crisis is real and as such should serve as an impetus for the expansion of regional cooperation.
The same applies in the case of food security. Guaranteeing supplies and ensuring sufficient food reserves for the coming months could easily become one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.
However, we must remember that the evident crises we face today may be further exacerbated by the increasingly serious crisis of climate change. In the wake of the increasing number of natural disasters around the world, we must not forget the importance of designing and executing ambitious transition plans toward a sustainable, low-carbon region.
While regional cooperation is at the core of the Brdo – Brijuni process and a fundamental principle that guides us as we move forward, we must not lose sight of the principles on which it can progress. Inclusion, equality and respect for each other are the principles on which genuine regional cooperation can succeed.
I am really proud to represent a country that sees principled cooperation and partnerships based on the principle of equality as a necessity, while it considers integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures as its inevitable destiny. But, the most important thing is that this path is not something that our people have chosen to leave to fate or chance. We have paved this road for ourselves. The EU and NATO will be our home because this is what we have worked for and sacrificed so much for – and this is why we belong to the Euro-Atlantic family.
By the end of this year we will apply for EU candidate country status and we look forward to the support of all EU member states. The Republic of Kosovo may be the youngest country in Europe, but as a people we have always contributed to this continent: I am not talking only in terms of geography or identity, but most importantly I am talking about our systematic and determined commitment to promote and protect European values.
The more EU there is in the Western Balkans, the more stability, democracy and peace there will be in the European Union itself.
But let's not forget: Europe is not the same after February 24th, 2022. In the wake of Russia's current war on Ukraine, no one can claim to be pro-European unless they actually act like one. In difficult times like these, perhaps even more important than the challenges we face is how we respond to them.
The Brdo – Brijuni process continues to play an important role in bringing our region closer to the European Union. On behalf of the people of the Republic of Kosovo, I want to once again express our gratitude to the hosts for their ambition and dedication.
In the spirit of advancing cooperation and further partnership, we would be honoured to organize the next meeting of the Leaders of the Brdo – Brijuni Process in our country, in the Republic of Kosovo.