European Western Balkans

Putting Kosovo on EU’s map: A short (and easy) guide for the new government

Kosovo’s path towards EU hasn’t been easy nor fast. Since Thessaloniki summit back in 2003, when for the first time EU promised to Kosovo an undefined “European perspective”, the relations between the two haven’t always been the most fruitful ones. Despite engaging on EU integration process since declaration of independence back in 2008, Kosovo hasn’t really moved much forward in the process. The most notable development in this regard has been the ratification of Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), which hasn’t really been very instrumental for Kosovo so far, due to lack of its implementation.

The EU agenda has always taken a big portion of political discourse of various politicians who have been appointed in state’s high positions. Political parties, on the other hand, have always tried to have EU integration as one of the main priorities, but there have been much more talking than real work done in practice. As a result, Kosovo remains a potential candidate for EU membership, with a very unclear perspective, and its citizens the only one in Balkans without being able to travel without visa in the Schengen Area. Everything seems to become even more complicated when we call upon the fact that there are still five Member States that do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and have periodically imposed barriers on Kosovo’s way to the EU. Having in mind all the external factors directly linked to the EU and its Member States, as well as the continuous failure of Kosovo institutions to fulfill EU requirements, one might ask how could Kosovo’s path towards EU must look like.

Surely, this is a question that the new Government should have into consideration since its first day. In fact, the EU-related issues has already begun to be discussed between potential governing coalition, VV and LDK, and as a first issue that needs to be determined is whether there will be a Ministry of European Integration or not. Both parties have agreed to limit the number of ministries to maximum 15, and one of the ministries that is allegedly going to be cut is the Ministry of EU Integration, which would become a part of Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Even though there are no official standings on this issue, officials of both VV and LDK have mentioned this possibility various times during the election campaign.

In case the coalition would proceed with this option, it is crucial to ensure proper transition of all departments of the Ministry of EU Integration towards MFA. MIA is in charge for dealing with IPA funds, manages Young Cells Scheme, deals with approximation of EU laws and covers more or less all issues that are important on the integration process. MIA would also be in charge on preparing a potential bid for candidate status of Kosovo, even though this might be unlikely to happen anytime soon. Moreover, having in mind Kosovo’s tight agenda on dialogue with Serbia, pushing membership bids in various regional and international organizations and dealing with the recognition process, the EU-integration domain would be a huge workload for a potential Foreign Minister. Therefore, it is my personal view that Ministry of Integration should remain, or at least the process should have appointed care-takers who have knowledge over process and also political backup which would support the whole process.

In order to be successful on EU integration process, the new government should approach the process in two dimensions: internal and external. Internally, there are many unsolved issues from the past that need to be urgently addressed. Externally, Kosovo should not only get fully engaged in the process, but it also needs to step up the game with EU institutions and especially Member States in return of better chances for visa liberalization, integration process and possibly new recognitions.

The biggest problem that Kosovo faces for many years now is the corruption and the rule of law. Lack of progress in this regard is considered to be one of the main reasons why EU’s Member States are still hesitant to lift the visa regime for Kosovo citizens, despite the fact that Kosovo has officially ticked all the boxes of criteria set by the Roadmap on visa liberalization. What could really help Kosovo on its way to the EU is fight against corruption and strengthening of rule of law. This should be one of the key priorities of the government.

Another important issue where Kosovo needs to deliver is proper implementation of Stabilization and Association Agreement. Since its ratification in 2016, this agreement hasn’t been fully implemented, and non-implementation hinders the importance of this crucial contract of Kosovo with the EU. The same story applies with implementation of European Reform Agenda, which, according to various civil society organizations in Kosovo, is lacking implementation. ERA II is currently on public discussion and it is expected to be adopted soon after new institutions are constituted.

Finally, on internal aspect, the new government should reform public administration. The Government is the highest employer in the country, and there is a necessity to upgrade the public administration by making it professional, efficient and functional. Other issues, such as political stability, free market and reforms in judiciary are necessary and needed, in order to speed up the integration process.

Externally, Kosovo needs to focus on its relations with Member States, and this does not only apply for non-recognizers. Kosovo needs to reaffirm its partnership with the EU, and remain focused on the process. An open and sincere dialogue is expected from Kosovo’s high officials with their counterparts from EU’s Member States. This dialogue will build trust, speed up visa liberalization process and generally help Kosovo with the integration process. A specific focus should be paid to non-recognizing states, especially Spain. Kosovo has cultivated some kind of relations with Greece, especially on education and trade, but not much with the other four non-recognizers. Spain has become from bad to worse towards Kosovo, each time some protests have erupted in Catalonia. Kosovo leaders must lobby more, must invite more delegations to visit in Kosovo, and must work hard internally to make Kosovo stable, secure and corruption-free. This would help a lot, jointly with a potential progress on the dialogue with Serbia. Expectations are high, and the government needs to deliver.

Since I am writing today of dos and don’ts of the upcoming government, I will not assess EU’s approach towards Kosovo. I will write about this issue on my next Kosovo – EU story, next week.

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