TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar begins a three-day trip to the Western Balkans today, which will include a visit to Irish soldiers in Kosovo.
The Irish leader is undertaking his first overseas trip of 2024, which will see him meet the Presidents and Prime Ministers of Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia, to discuss their applications for EU membership.
Arriving in Kosovo today, he will meet members of the Irish defence forces serving with the KFOR Kosovo mission, as well as Garda and civilian experts working with the EU’s EULEX Rule of Law Mission in the country.
During his visit to the Kosovan capital Pristina, the Taoiseach will be briefed on the work of KFOR by Mission Deputy Commander General Federico Bernacca, and will meet with Head of the EULEX Mission, Giovanni Pietro Barbano.
While there he will meet with Irish personnel serving with both missions.
He has confirmed he will use the opportunity to thank them for the “important work they are doing to ensure peace and stability in a fragile region”.
Speaking ahead of his visit, Mr Varadkar said: “I am pleased that my first overseas visit of the year is to our partners in the Western Balkans.
“It is a great honour as Taoiseach to be able to thank the Irish Defence Forces personnel in KFOR and their Garda and civilian colleagues in EULEX for their vital work, and to say how proud we are of their role in a fragile region,” he explained.
“We also think of our peacekeepers with UNIFIL in Lebanon, and UNDOF in Syria, and the long and distinguished Irish record of UN peacekeeping.”
Later today he will meet Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, and President Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu, before moving on to Montenegro to meet Prime Minister Milojko Spajić, and President Jakov Milatović.
Tomorrow the Taoiseach will visit Northern Macedonia to meet Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski and President Stevo Pendarovski.
“The future of Kosovo, Montenegro, and North Macedonia lies within the EU, and I know that all three countries are committed to implementing the necessary reforms,” Mr Varadkar said of the issues up for discussion during his meetings.
Ireland has long advocated for countries in the Western Balkans to aim for full EU membership, and the Taoiseach is determined to provide guidance on the reforms required by the nations in order to join the Union.
“I look forward to discussing how we in Ireland, and our partners across Europe, can help these three countries to achieve full EU membership,” he explained.
“I will particularly encourage the leaders of Kosovo to focus their efforts on normalising relations with Serbia, under the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, which is essential for their path to EU membership,” he added.
The war in Ukraine and the conflict in the Middle East will also be discussed, as well as “ways to strengthen bilateral ties between Ireland and the Western Balkans” the Taosieach’s office has confirmed.