Finland’s minister for European affairs, Tytti Tuppurainen, says that it is time to liberalize visas for citizens of Kosovo, as the only country in the region that does not enjoy freedom of movement.
Tuppurainen in an exclusive interview for KosovaPress says that Finland also supports Kosovo’s bid to become a member of the Council of Europe and international security organizations.
While talking about the current security situation in the world after Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, she emphasizes that she is here for deepening the cooperation between Kosovo and Finland.
In the interview given to KosovaPress, Tuppurainen also talks about the Open Balkan, the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Serbia’s non-imposition of sanctions on Russia, and the potential danger that threatens the Western Balkans.
Commenting on the statements of the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, that his response to the reciprocity established by the Government of Kosovo for ID cards and license plates will be “deadly”, the Finnish minister says that any escalating rhetoric is something she regrets.
KosovaPress: You have come for an official visit to Kosovo. What is the purpose of this visit and what will be the focus of your meetings with Kosovo state leaders?
Tuppurainen: First of all, this is my first ever, visit to Kosovo and Pristina, and I’ve been really looking forward to this trip. I’m a firm friend of Kosovo, and Finland has a very long, good partnership with Kosovo, and therefore, I think we can further strengthen our bilateral ties, and, of course, the current security situation in Europe, having Russia attacked Ukraine, it is a reason for us all to further enhance dialogue and our mutual cooperation for democracy, peace and stability.
KosovaPress: Kosovo and Finland are known to have good relations. Is there room for this cooperation to deepen further and in which areas?
Tuppurainen: There is certainly room for further, deepening of our corporation, there are already 10,000, Kosovars living in Finland, so it’s a quite a big diaspora, and I think many of them know Finland very well, and of course, they know their homeland very well, so, when we could perhaps utilize their knowledge of our countries, in order to enhance our economic cooperation. If there’s anything we could do at the embassy here, or what I could do to deliver a message to our government, in order, to promote our business ties, I’d be happy to do that. I believe that we have so much to do in the areas of, bi economy, or circular economy, recycling, and so on. So, I look forward to increase our cooperation.
KosovaPress: The Government of Kosovo has imposed reciprocity measures on Serbia for ID cards and license plates, for which Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has threatened, saying that their response will be “deadly”. Do you think there can be destabilization in the Western Balkans given the Serb-Russian relation and the ongoing hybrid war?
Tuppurainen: First of all, stability of the Western Balkans is of outmost important issue, not only for the region itself, but for Europe. We are talking about European neighborhood; therefore, it is our common cause to enhance stability in the region. And I must say that any escalating rhetoric is something that I regret. I hope that everybody works towards a common understanding, and common agreement because only through mutual cooperation and understanding we can achieve peace and stability. I believe that Kosovo has the legal right for elections, but I hope that at the end everybody understands that we need to find common ground and avoid any escalation.
KosovaPress: Is Kosovo being wronged in terms of visa liberalization? And how did you see the statements that there may be additional criteria for Kosovo?
Tuppurainen: I want to make this very clear; Finland is in favor of granting Kosovo the visa liberalization. You certainly deserve it. Your young people deserve it. I have met many young Kosovars who are eager to travel, to have the equal rights for traveling. Kosovo is the only country in western Balkans not having Visa liberalization. And now it’s high time to grant it. Finland is in favor of that, and we have been working towards the goal that the Council would reach the agreement on granting the Visa liberalization.
KosovaPress: What do you expect from the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and how much do you consider it necessary to reach an agreement in the nearest possible period, taking into account the current circumstances in which the world is today?
Tuppurainen: We believe that the dialogue is very important. Of course, it’s up to Kosovo. Make your own decisions. It’s up to you, how do you use the momentum of the dialogue? I think that after the Serbian election now, it’s new momentum to further enhance the dialogue. The EU has invested a lot in this dialogue, having special representative Lajcak operating in this field, and we firmly support the work of Lajcak. Of course, it takes two to tango. It’s not only for Kosovo to solve the issues that are on the table. But nevertheless, you can be the force that is striving for good, striving for common ground, and striving for a good final deal. Because at the end, you need a mutual agreement, in order to proceed in your European path. I believe that Kosovo belongs to Europe, to our mutual cooperation, but this dialogue is something that needs to be utilized to the outmost. So, I encourage you, but I fully understand that it’s up to Kosovo to make her own choices.
KosovaPress: What is Finland’s stance on the Open Balkan, do you think Kosovo should join the initiative?
Tuppurainen: It’s up to you to decide on your own destiny. I’m not here as a minister, telling you what you should do. If you think that Open Balkan, creates some kind of added value for you, then of course you should grab the opportunity, but if you think that there are other means that are better for you, then of course it’s up to you to use them. There is this common regional market initiative that is facilitated by the Berlin process. I believe that, that is also a great chance to further promote your way to the European Union, single Market, having common values, using common standards, whatever you can do here in order to better your situation when it comes to European standards that will help you in the way to get into the European Union internal market. And there is nothing that could replace the economic power of the EU internal Market, no investment from the outside, could do the same benefit as the European single market. So that will be something that you should definitely strive for, it has been a great great resource for Finland’s economy and it could be the same for the Western Balkans.
KosovaPress: Serbia is the only country that has not imposed sanctions on Russia after the military aggression in Ukraine. How do you see this stance of Serbia and what do you think, what should be the stance of the EU ragrding the matter?
Tuppurainen: We have to stay united, only united we can face Russia. Let’s let’s be clear. Russia is an autocracy, which is waging a war, a ruthless illegal war in Ukraine. And we have to decide on which side of History we are. Are we fighting for democracy, human rights, and rule of law, or are we sitting on the fence? I believe that we all should pick the side where we are and fully align with the EU’s foreign and security policy. It is a necessity if you want to proceed in your enlargement, accession negotiations, which this region is currently ongoing.
KosovaPress: Following the lifting of the blockade by Turkey on the membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO, the Alliance has decided to invite the two countries to join it. How long do you think this will take?
Tuppurainen: Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I hope that that it will happen sooner than later. We are happy about the Madrid Summit that it was that successful, that we were able to find an agreement with Turkey. It is a matter of diplomacy and it’s the matter of negotiations, finding common ground, and at the end, consents. But of course, in this situation where we are, as Finland, we understand that we are a country that is applying for membership in NATO. So, our case is to be humble and let the countries that are already members in the NATO, to make their own ratification decision. I believe that we are 100% compatible, when it comes to NATO criteria, and Finland would provide added value to the whole Alliance, not only to the NATO alliance, but also to the wider region. I believe that we all should work towards a more peaceful and more stable Europe.
KosovaPress: Kosovo wants to be part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace. Does it have the support of Finland, even as a future member of NATO?
Tuppurainen: I see Kosovo as a part of a multi lateral moves-based order. I welcome your decision to apply for membership in the Council of Europe. Finland, supports your bid to become a member of the Council of Europe. And, as I said, we are in favor of your Visa liberalization. And I believe that one day you will start the negotiations to become a member of the EU. So, it’s up to you, if you apply also membership in NATO, we are not there yet so it’s not for me to invite Kosovo to be part of it, but I encourage you to be firmly rooted in all the rules-based organizations and institutions, more like small countries like Finland. It is very good for us to be part of the multilateral order. Instead, we would be in the world of super powers and their constant struggle, and we all know where that can lead. So, let’s all work from rules-based multilateral order in the world, in Europe and in the whole world.