"We are still in a stage of supervised independence," Pieter Feith told deputies from the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee on Wednesday (11 February). He refused to estimate how long this stage could last.
The "basic conditions" to reach "full independence" include establishing a single legal space across the whole territory of Kosovo, lasting stability and good relations with its neighbours, the Dutch diplomat explained.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on 17 February last year and Mr Feith was appointed as International Civilian Representative there on 28 February. He also holds a mandate as the EU Special Representative in Kosovo.
Since December, the EU's police and justice mission EULEX has also operated throughout Kosovo, taking over police, justice and customs tasks from United Nations' personnel.
Mr Feith rejected claims that Kosovo was slowly being transformed into a protectorate of the EU.
"This word is in a way causing a problem for me," he said, explaining that Kosovo had an EU membership perspective and was aiming to one day become a fully fledged member of the 27-member bloc.
Before this can happen, Pristina still has a lot to accomplish, the diplomat said, citing stability, reforms and a reconciliation between the majority ethnic Albanian population and the minority Serbs in the north of Kosovo as the three top priorities for next year.
"The government must undertake steps in the areas of accountability, organised crime ... It must also strengthen links between civic and political life and ensure the use of public and international donor funds in a responsible and transparent manner."
The parliament's role should also be boosted, as "many decisions are still taken by the government, without the significant involvement of the assembly," Mr Feith said.
Another key issue remains the involvement of the Serb minority in the country's life, with most Kosovo Serbs still feeling a strong attachment to Belgrade. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo's independence and still considers it part of its territory.
To date, more than 50 countries worldwide have recognised Kosovo as a sovereign state, including the US and 22 EU member states.