Officials from Kosovo and the European Union convened a digital meeting to discuss developments over the past year in areas ranging from education, social policies and employment to telecommunication and audio-visual policies, to cultural heritage.
The meeting was co-chaired by the Office of the Prime Minister and the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, with the participation of experts from other Directorate-Generals and Ministries. The discussion was held in the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), which entered into force in April 2016. In all areas, the Commission and Kosovo agreed on the importance of implementing the relevant European Reform Agenda and Economic Reform Program priorities, as well as the recommendations of the 2020 Commission Report on Kosovo and the previous Sub-committee conclusions.
On information society, Kosovo has made progress in implementing of the Regional Roaming Agreement. It was noted that, given the political developments, much of the drafted legislation on Cyber Security, as well as on alignment with the Security of Network and Information Systems Directive and the Electronic Identification and Trust Services for Electronic Transactions in the Internal Market Regulation was not adopted by the Assembly.
Kosovo was encouraged to swiftly adopt this legislation once the new Government is in place and the new Assembly convenes. The parties also discussed how to better link the green and digital policies. This is also particularly relevant in the context of Economic and Investment Plan, where green and digital transition feature prominently.
On audio-visual policy, the Commission noted that Kosovo has not yet addressed the recurrent Sub-committee and annual Report recommendations on the digital switchover and sustainable financing of the public broadcaster. The parties agreed that it is important that the Independent Media Commission continues to be transparent and ensures that the rules on public consultations when drafting regulations are respected.
On employment, the Commission noted that the structural challenges in the field of employment and social policy (unemployment rate, population living below the poverty line) have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and extra efforts will be needed, in addition to the already undertaken socio-economic measures, to address them. Kosovo explained that important legislative work is in the pipeline, namely the draft Labour Law, the draft Law on the Labour Inspectorate and the draft Law on the Economic and Social Council, and the Commission hoped that they will be adopted soon. The Commission praised the decision to integrate the provisions of the draft Law on Maternity and Parental Leave into the draft Labour Law, which will ensure legal certainty and provide proper protection for working women. The Commission encouraged the Kosovo authorities to take into account potential financial implications when proposing new legislative initiatives. Yet, it reiterated that the legislative framework in the field is largely in place and the focus should be on implementation of the existing legislation.
On education, the Commission noted the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the area and commended Kosovo for the swift organisation of education activities virtually when the circumstances did not allow for schools to remain open. However, it expressed concern about the very slow progress in implementing the previous Sub-committee conclusions. The Commission regretted the insufficient efforts by the Ministry to prepare for the Kosovo Accreditation Agency’s application to re-join European quality assurance bodies. The Agency is itself managing accreditation processes well, even virtually. The Commission also regretted the recent resignation of five board members of the Agency and recalled that the new members must be selected urgently and through transparent and merit-based process.
On protection of cultural heritage, the Commission stressed that Kosovo should ensure continued commitment to the Implementation and Monitoring Council and its work and should finalise the overdue Law on Cultural Heritage.
On research and innovation, the Commission observed progress on aspects related to the European Research Area, with a better integration of previously fragmented policies; the establishment of a national Research Fund; a very good participation in Horizon 2020 for the year 2019; and an active participation in the European Cooperation in Science and Technology. However, it noted that many aspects of the European Research Area are not sufficiently addressed due to a weak national science and innovation ecosystem, the failure to distribute research-funding appropriations, and that the image of science in society is associated with universities not demonstrating visible impact on society. Kosovo will be fully associated to Horizon Europe for the first time and this is an important step. The Commission congratulated Kosovo on joining the GEANT network.
The SAA is the framework for the EU and Kosovo to regularly discuss technical and policy issues on EU-related reforms. The SAA bodies include the SA Council, assisted by the SA Committee, as well as SAA Sub-committees, which cover a wide range of the EU acquis. The meetings of the SAA bodies provide direct input into the European Commission's annual reports and the Economic Reform Programme assessment.
Each Sub-committee meeting monitors and accompanies Kosovo's delivery on reforms and identifies how the EU can assist in this process.
There are seven areas covered through sectorial meetings of Sub-committees, on Justice, Freedom and Security; Innovation, Information Society, Social Policy, Education and Culture; Trade, Industry, Customs and Taxation; Internal Market, Competition, Consumer and Health Protection; Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, Food Safety; Transport, Environment, Energy, Climate Change and Regional Development; Economic and Financial Issues, Statistics.
Two other areas covered through the meetings of special groups are the reform of the public administration and normalisation. The SA Committee and SAA Sub-committee meetings are co-chaired by the European Commission and Kosovo. Each meeting results in jointly agreed conclusions to be implemented by the Kosovo authorities.