First Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kosovo: Mr. Hashim Thaci (Former Premier)

The American Times Presents: First Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo Mr. Hashim Thaci

Kosovo’s history is short and challenges lay ahead; however, the country has established itself considerably regardless of these factors. Where does Kosovo stand in today’s international framework?

Recently we’ve celebrated 15 years of liberation and six and a half years as an independent nation. In that short period of time the country has achieved recognition as a sovereign nation by 106 countries and we are now in the process of consolidating the State. Throughout all of this we’ve also made strides as integration opportunities present themselves by taking part in several regional and international organizations from CEFTA to the World Bank and IMF. Although during this time we have indeed faced many challenges, not unlike many countries in the region, ultimately the story of Kosovo is a story of success and continued development.

When you look at the history of Kosovo it is inherently linked with the United States. How important are those continued relations with the US?

Kosovo’s relations with the US are great, they are eternal. I feel proud to boast that we are the most pro-American country in the world and this does not just happen by chance, it is a long process, historic and actualized to this day.

It all began with President George H.W. Bush in 1991 when he drew the red line between Kosovo and Serbia when he stated that what happened in Bosnia will not be repeated in Kosovo. These relations of course carried on later with President Clinton in 1998-99 when the bombings occurred followed then by the second Bush who was President when we declared Kosovo’s independence on February 17th, 2008. We maintain those relations with the current US administration through President Obama and Vice President Biden. Today our aim is to be a part of the European Union and NATO while maintaining special relations with the US.

To help foster those ongoing relations with America we are actively producing ongoing arguments that showcase our willingness for development. These are arguments of a successful state, a state with ethnic tolerance and movements towards developing economically, pursuing democratic reforms and strengthening our rule of law.

 

We have a different notion in Kosovo regarding economic development compared to maybe others in the region. We are interested in a free market economy, an environment of competition and a climate conducive to attracting investors and further privatization. In order to augment that environment we aim to mirror the European Union economic legislative framework. When our legislation is harmonized with the EU’s it will provide a large confidence factor through guarantees that many foreign investors require.

 

When you mention reforms, specifically economic development, what are the key tenets to this development in regards to the facilitation of economic growth?

This is primarily economic development through the creation of 200,000 new jobs in the next four years. In general, the aim is to increase the overall well-being of the citizens which includes further investments in education and health as well. To help facilitate this we need to exploit wisely our natural resources and also repatriate funds derived from the privatization process (≈ € 600M), particularly the pension fund(≈ € 700M), all of which is currently held abroad. We are talking about an eventual €1.5 billion [USD 2.04 billion] when we also factor in future privatizations and foreign donors. When these monies become available we will have a domestic fund named the New Jobs Fund which would serve as a low interest credit line for private businesses who will create new jobs.

Kosovo is a new country but a country of opportunities and I think our agenda for economic development is quite easily achievable. In my earlier years I focused on politics and diplomacy because Kosovo had to become independent. Now, we are working diligently on the economy, dealing with concrete issues to support that growth.

What are some of the key sectors that would be attractive to our US investors?

A very important area of interest should be within the mining and energy sectors where capacities are indeed underexploited. Beyond that there is agriculture and winter tourism, in particular the Brezovica ski center. These are the main priority and the best opportunities for investors to consider.

As you may know this particular project we are conducting on Kosovo will be a joint initiative including Albania. How are relations with Albania?

At a political level relations with Albania are excellent. But we are Kosovo-Albanians and an independent nation within the Balkan region; as such, we are striving at all times to further integrate our markets and liberalize our borders with not just Albania but Montenegro and Serbia as well for mutual benefit. To this end we are always thinking about the European model [EU]. Collaboration with Albania has historically focused on education and culture. But now I believe cooperation has evolved into more of an economic context, particularly in the energy and tourism sectors of our two countries.

What are some general reforms that the government is currently working on as it prepares for the future?

I expect that visa liberalization will happen very soon. We have fulfilled all the criteria and standards set forth by the European Union and now it’s in the hands of the politicians in Brussels who will take a decision in the near future. Beyond that we are continuing our efforts in legislative, political and economic reforms. It’s fortunate that the elections were organized early as it marks the first time that the entire territory of Kosovo, including the Serbs and the northern territory, have participated in voting based partly on these reforms, so I think that sends a powerful message. Ultimately, rule-of-law is the paramount pre-condition for all NATO and EU proceedings making the natural next step comprehensive reforms intended to fight corruption, organized crime and trafficking.

What are some specific economic reforms your government is looking into?

We have a different notion in Kosovo regarding economic development compared to maybe others in the region. We are interested in a free market economy, an environment of competition and a climate conducive to attracting investors and further privatization. In order to augment that environment we aim to mirror the European Union economic legislative framework. When our legislation is harmonized with the EU’s it will provide a large confidence factor through guarantees that many foreign investors require.

In many emerging countries tackling rural unemployment tends to act as a major hurdle. What are you doing to facilitate development outside of Pristina?

We have created three economic zones in Prizren, Gjakova and Mitrovica. Beyond that, considering that the majority of people live in rural areas and are engaged in agricultural activities, my plan is to invest €500 million, about a third of the New Jobs Fund mentioned earlier, in this sector with the aim of employing 50,000 people. Importantly, we aim to make this sector attractive to the younger generation who at the current time are apprehensive to engage with the sector. With about one-third of arable land uncultivated this represents big potential for the youth. I know it is an ambitious plan, but not impossible. It is a new battle and I am confident that we will be able to do it.

Mr. Thaci, what would you like to be remembered for?

[chuckling]- Well, It’s a bit early to think about what I will be remembered for but I think I’ve given a lot for my country and I believe I still have a lot more to give. In the past I have won two major life struggles: the victorious path to freedom and the independence of Kosovo. I led the fight for both these and now my third objective is economic development. I’d like to reiterate that a major component of the Mission is about NATO and EU integration. I have full confidence that those will be realized, but it will not be easy. People’s expectations are always greater than the opportunities. We’ve already overcome inconceivable challenges and few people believed that this country would become independent. Kosovo is a country of great potential and I seek to harness that potential. I would say at this point people can evaluate my tenure for themselves, but in the end I will always serve my country.

If you could pretend for a moment that a group of American investors are sitting in front of you; what simple message would you deliver to them on ‘Why Kosovo’?

My dialogue with investors would start the same way it does with Vice President Biden and the Obama administration: Kosovo is a success story incomplete. The US should be involved with us and focus should not be taken away from Kosovo. American firms are now in a position to be a part of the earliest chapters of our story and are more than welcomed in Kosovo. We will offer our best investment opportunities via our natural resources in an environment that offers security and guarantees. One needs to look no further for inspiration than the American company Bechtel that recently built the greatest highway in the region in Kosovo. Just as that company was welcomed with open arms so shall you.

 

 

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