Country Report 2019 triggered a lukewarm reaction in Kosovo. The effects of an unclear perspective have gradually faded the EU integration enthusiasm. The report on Kosovo – among many other challenges – confirmed the fact that the EU is increasingly losing clout in Kosovo, and that the report can no longer be used by the civil society activists as the main tool of advocacy to push for changes in the country. Whereas, the dragging feet in the visa liberalization process is widely used by the government as an excuse to show resistance toward EU, as well as a way to justify the lack of political will to deliver on the EU reforms.
Among myriad of findings in the report, the main concern of the majority in Kosovo continues to revolve around the European Commission reinstated positive opinion on the visa liberalization. This attitude reflects on the fact that this is the only tangible result for the citizens of Kosovo, and most likely the only ‘carrot’ Kosovo will receive in the long term span. Henceforth, in the eyes of the public opinion, the report confirmed the fulfilled visa liberalization technical criteria, which was followed by the praise for the Assembly on its success to ratify the demarcation agreement with Montenegro – both cases representing two achievements for which Kosovo has not yet been rewarded by the EU.
While the positive assessment of the European Commission on the fulfilment of the visa liberalization benchmarks has raised some eyebrows among EU member countries, a comparative analysis launched by the European Stability Initiative on the assessment of the ‘fundamentals’ among Western Balkan countries, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina share similar scores. To be more specific, both countries have scored some level of preparation (4) on the fight against corruption and the fight against organized crime. Nevertheless, Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoys a visa-free regime, while Kosovo still struggles to receive the support of the majority of EU member states in this regard.
On another political note, red flags have been raised by the EU in relation to the imposed tariffs on goods imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Once again, the EU has used the opportunity to put pressure on the Government of Kosovo to lift the tariffs for the sake of good neighbourly relations. The tariffs represent an economically counter-productive measure which directly violated the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). In addition, the EU did not hesitate to reinforce the demands to create a conducive environment for the parties to gradually continue the EU facilitated dialogue in Brussels in order to pave the way for the EU integration perspective for both Kosovo and Serbia.
On a more technical level of the dialogue, the EU calls for the Government of Kosovo to remain committed to the implementation of the technical agreements signed in the auspices of the Brussels Dialogue. This recommendation comes after a period of implementation stagnation caused not only by the fact that the dialogue has been facing a multi-frontal crisis, but also triggered by the debate over the border ‘correction’, a solution encouraged by the European Commission to settle Kosovo-Serbia relations. Having the EU on board with a solution that would potentially invalidate most of the agreements signed on the technical level has put the entire process – even the limited commitment to implement the agreements – into jeopardy. The high levels of uncertainty in the dialogue and the complex relations with the EU can be considered the key factors behind the negligence of the Government of Kosovo. This time around, authorities in Kosovo did not even feel the pressure to comply with the ‘tick the box’ reporting system in which implementation would be portrayed successful – at least – on paper.
The rest of the Report is an ‘old tale retold’. While it represents a very clear and concise state of current affairs in Kosovo, the report reflects the dialogue of the deaf in which the EU keeps repeating itself from the previous editions without effective response from Kosovo.
The Report qualifies Kosovo position at the early stages of integration – even after more than a decade of constant and close observation, and three years after the Stabilization Association Agreement was signed between Kosovo and the EU.
Similarly, to the previous editions, the progress noted by the European Commission is limited to minor positive changes in the efforts to improve the legal framework in the areas of rule of law and public administration. The Report has a tendency to undermine the concerning levels of explicit political interference in the judiciary, reflected in the case of the war veterans pension scheme, has been only briefly mentioned in the report. Whereas, as much as the progress in the area of public administration has been showcased in the report, the excessive size of the government with the immense number of deputy-ministers has drastically affected its credibility and effectiveness.
On the other hand, the party based employment in the public sector in which the unqualified but politically connected candidates are appointed to senior and mid levels positions represent one of the most worrying issues in Kosovo. While all of this has been listed as a problem in the Report, there is a tendency to use mild and technical language to describe these issues. Seemingly, the reaction toward the abovementioned concerns has remained in the margins of individual members’ countries mostly expressed on Twitter.
In conclusion, the Report for Kosovo did not have a strong echo, the lack of EU perspective clearly shows a decreased role of the EU as a game changer in Kosovo. The vague effect of the Report should be used as a wake-up call for the EU, whereas more internal pressure from civil society is needed to keep the Government accountable.
Kosovo might be facing political challenges deriving from the five non-recognizing countries, but the existence of the Stabilization Association Agreements proves that Kosovo still has a chance to show serious commitment in the process. This is particularly important now as we expect to learn the composition of the new European Commission, and the attitude within the EU and member countries pertaining enlargement toward Western Balkans. New challenges will be raising over the horizon and we shall be prepared to use this opportunity for a positive reset.