Relations between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as Pristina’s 100% tariffs on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, are major campaign themes ahead of the snap parliamentary elections in Kosovo, scheduled for 6 October.
The elections are taking place against the backdrop of international actors, such as Washington and Brussels, becoming increasingly explicit in their messages to Belgrade and Pristina, that the normalisation talks must resume, and that the tariffs should be revoked quickly.
Shpend Emini, Executive Director of the Democracy for Development Institute from Kosovo and a member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), stresses for European Western Balkans that the abolishing the tariffs and continuation of the dialogue with Serbia will be the first test of the new government after the elections, adding that such a decision will not be easy, especially since the condition for abolishing the tariffs may be that Serbia stops with the de-recognition campaign of Kosovo’s independence and obstruction of Kosovo’s membership in international organisations.
However, despite the potential political cost of the decision to revoke tariffs and resume the dialogue, election campaign and statements of the candidates for Prime Minister show that the will to pave the way to the solution exists nonetheless. Some of the political parties have so far proposed the removing the tariff and replacing it with reciprocity.
“Vetëvendosje! wants the reciprocity approach in which Kosovo will impose the same sanctions to those Serbia imposes toward Kosovo. Whereas, Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) is seemingly divided in this regard,” says for our portal Donika Emini, Executive Director of the CiviKos Platform and another member of BiEPAG.
She adds that Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) seems to have the most flexible approach toward the tariffs because many of the key party members have indicated that they are willing to suspend tariffs and constructively deal with the dialogue.
On the other hand, Emini emphasises that some Kosovo’s leaders, such as Ramush Haradinaj, promote a very risky agenda. Haradinaj is building his campaign on the “100% state” inspired by the 100% tariffs his government has imposed.
Project manager at the Kosovo Democratic Institute (KDI) Jeta Krasniqi agrees that the tariffs will surely be an issue the new government will have to deal with.
“Election might affect the dialogue process depending on who will form the government. Yet, what the political scene has learned in the last two years is the need for consensus which goes beyond party lines”, Krasniqi said, adding that, because of this, the new government will have to work on consensus building.
A lukewarm approach to the EU
Dialogue with Serbia has been one of the main conditions for the progress on EU accession path of both countries and, even though the Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament reaffirmed its support for visa-free travel of the citizens of Kosovo last week, the process has been slow at best over the past two years.
Our interlocutors assess that, in spite of this, Kosovo’s orientation remains towards the West. According to Jeta Kraniqi, all political parties in Kosovo give their full support for the Euro-Atlantic agenda of the country.
“Good example of this support was recorded during the last Assembly’s legislature when two of the biggest opposition parties were boycotting the proceedings of the Assembly due to the issues related to the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, yet would come back and vote for EU related legislation”, Krasniqi explains.
However, during the current election campaign, the political parties are more cautious in promising visa liberalization or even setting a date for Kosovo’s EU membership, which has been also a feature of the previous campaigns.
“Seemingly, the EU is not on the agenda. With the uncertainty surrounding the visa liberalization process, political parties in Kosovo are reluctant to include this issue in their programs”, Donika Emini says.
This has a lot to do with the lack of EU perspective, the sense of isolation, and the general understanding that the EU will not be politically able to deliver, she explains.
“The lack of delivery on the EU side might as well be used by the political elite to shift this attitude and re-define country’s foreign strategic partners”, Emini said.
The times of uncertainty, with the new External Action Service being led by a non-recognizer (Spain’s Josep Borell), have contributed to the overall lukewarm approach of political parties toward EU integration process, with the only positive aspect being the lack of tendency to derail from EU or share negative approach or propaganda toward the Union, she concludes.