European Western Balkans

Brussel’s hot potato: New Kosovo Government and the dialogue with Serbia

Albin Kurti; Photo: Flickr / Europe Upf

For the fourth consecutive time in less than ten years, Kosovo citizens faced early elections, this time after former PM Ramush Haradinaj abruptly resigned after being invited for questioning by Kosovo Specialist Chambers in Hague, established to trial war and post-war crimes in Kosovo.

Snap elections of 6 October were well organized and results were close, but clear. Former PAN Coalition, comprised mainly by political entities led or founded by former KLA high profiles, faced the music that they have created themselves over the past years, since most of them have been governing the country for many years. Veseli’s PDK ended up third, AAK of Haradinaj fourth and NISMA of Limaj until now did not reach the threshold for even entering the Parliament. On the other hand, former opposition parties, Vetëvendosje (VV) and LDK, comfortably became the front-runners of Kosovo politics, with a narrow difference of around 6.000 votes between them. The counting process in still ongoing, but there is almost no chance that LDK will surpass VV, and Albin Kurti’s political movement is set to win an election for the first time since its participation in elections in 2010.

The cooperation between VV and LDK that has begun in past two years in opposition is expected to continue, now as coalition partners in government. Despite the fact that both parties are officially waiting for the certification of results by CEC, technical groups of both parties have already started to work on the joint program which would later eventually become Government’s program. This process is particularly important, especially since Kosovo urgently needs to speed up and take action on various internal issues, such as economic growth, reduce unemployment, strengthen the rule of law and improve health and education sectors. However, the biggest challenges for the new Kosovo’s government are believed to be those linked with external action, mainly dialogue with Serbia and integration path towards the EU.

Former PM Haradinaj treated his role as if it was a Swedish Table: took what he wanted and left the other parts of the job. In this regard, Haradinaj didn’t show any interest of dealing with the dialogue with Serbia. He simply transferred his responsibilities of the process to President Thaçi, and tried to support a “state delegation” which later was announced anti-constitutional. The biggest impact Haradinaj had in dialogue was the imposition of 100% tariff for Serbian products, which resulted with withdrawal from the dialogue table of Serbian delegation. Even though the tax was a mean of last resort to fight back against diplomatic aggression against Kosovo from Serbia, this action, however, impacted the dialogue, and from that day there has been no official meeting registered between two parties.

Aleksandar Vučić, Hashim Thaci; Photo: European Forum Alpbach / Andrei Pungovschi / Flickr

An important development has occurred in 2019 regarding who should be speaking in the name of Kosovo in the dialogue process. Constitutional Court disregarded the Law on Competences of State Delegation and clarified competences of Prime Minister and President with regard to the dialogue. As a result, the new PM will be directly leading the dialogue process.

International community, especially US and EU’s most powerful member states, are urging for a rapid restart of dialogue. Appointments of Grenell and Palmer as well as high intense of bilateral meetings of EU and its member states officials with officials from Kosovo and Serbia is a clear sign that the dialogue will probably continue shortly. However, this seems to be impossible without removal of the tariff on Serbian products from Kosovo government. The next PM of Kosovo, who will probably be Kurti, has to find an immediate solution to this issue.

Even though Kurti’s party has initially supported the imposition of tariffs, Kurti’s rhetoric has slowly changed in favor of a “full reciprocity”. In this view, it is expected that Kurti would switch from a decision that has blocked the dialogue with Serbia to some other decision which could impose even more restrictions on various fields. Kosovo’s passport is not recognized by Serbia, nor its official car plates. Kosovo products cannot cross Serbia to be able to be placed in EU markets, and there are still many open issues more or less in every other field. If full reciprocity would apply, then the situation between both sides could even become more polarized. However, if Vučić lives up its word, once the tariff is be suspended, Serbia is expected to return to the dialogue table. So, long story short, Kurti would suspend the tariff and this would open the path for dialogue continuation. However, there are other implication on the process.

If there’s something that has characterized Vetëvendosje in their political life, that would be consistency. VV had always opposed the way dialogue with Serbia was conducted. According to Vetëvendosje, the dialogue should be focused on Serbian community living in Kosovo. As an individual but also active member of civil society and academia, I should confirm that the position of Serbian community in Kosovo is not in the best state, especially of those who have refused to collaborate with Serbian officials in Belgrade. Kosovo institutions, despite the attempts, still didn’t find a solution on fully integrating Kosovo Serbs. There are many factors for this, but the most important one is continuous interfering of Serbian politics on daily lives of people, especially in the north. Random Serbian citizens and political figures living in Kosovo, that haven’t been affiliated with Srpska Lista, have been continuously threatened, intimidated and even called traitors for cooperating with institutions in Pristina. Therefore, a true dialogue with Kosovo Serbs is necessary, but neither Kurti nor any other political figure in Kosovo could exclude negotiations with high officials of Serbia. The dialogue should develop both ways, internally and externally, in order to achieve a sustainable solution.

Mitrovica Bridge; Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Another task that awaits the new government will be dealing with agreements that have already been signed and ratified. According to various resources from Pristina-based NGOs, KDI and BIRN, only 4 out of 23 agreements have been fully implemented so far. The new government should push the implementation of these agreements forward, even though most of them have failed not for the fault of Kosovo’s side, but simply because Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo.

The most challenging agreement is, of course, Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo. This agreement derives from the First Agreement signed in 2013, and confirmed in 2015. Leading figures of the (supposed) new government, Albin Kurti and Vjosa Osmani, have continuously opposed the agreement. Constitutional Court of Kosovo has clarified that many of the issues covered in this agreement are against the Constitution of Kosovo. On the other hand, Kosovo has already ratified this agreement, making it legally binding. Therefore, the Association agreement is as complex as it could get, especially after having in mind that Kosovo might have a PM that has always referred to this Association as “Zajednica”.

Finally, what the new government must immediately complete is adoption of a State Platform for Dialogue with Serbia. The dialogue has begun since 2011, and up to date Kosovo never had a platform which would guide the process. Issues covered in the dialogue have been mainly set by the EU, and these issues have been perceived differently – depending on who was talking in Brussels. On the other hand, according to public opinion polls, Kosovo citizens want a state platform which would cover issues of missing persons and war-related damages, topics that have never been discussed until now.

As it could be seen, the dialogue with Serbia will be difficult, but doable. If the coalition of VV and LDK is soon formalized, we could even have a stable majority at the parliament, and with a little support of opposition, a final agreement would finally see the light. Nevertheless, one thing should be clear for everyone: who and why would be an agreement needed, if real-life stories would be still the same? The new government must give a clear path to the dialogue, and it should be beneficial for all communities living in Kosovo.

Will the agreement with Serbia be enough for better chances for EU integration of Kosovo? This is another topic which I will be writing about in my next Kosovo story.

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