European Western Balkans

Kosovo: New Government, same old challenges

Albin Kurti; Photo: Flickr / Europe Upf

So it is over. Kosovo formed a new government on Monday, headed by Prime Minister Albin Kurti. The government has been formed after nearly four months of extensive negotiations between Vetëvendosje (Self-Determination) and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

Many in Kosovo call the last elections an electoral revolution reflecting the political maturity of the voters and a showcasing the immense potential for a new wave of democracy. The new government – highly praised for gender and ethnic representation – received a wide support being perceived as the only way to freeing the captured institutions in Kosovo.

However, the government is expected to face multi-folded challenges both internally and externally while struggling to live up to expectations. The pressure to deliver is clearly reflected by the newly appointed ministers who did not waste time at all and immediately have rolled up their sleeves to conduct their first visits immediately after having formally received their portfolios from their predecessors.

One of the first challenges among many, will be the consolidation of the government itself. Shrunk into fifteen ministries from twenty-one inherited by the former government, the first challenge of the new government will be to internally re-organize the departments and ensure smooth transition of the institutions. On the other hand, judging by the numerous hurdles during the negotiations for coalition between Vetëvendosje and LDK, cooperation and cohesion between the two governing parties will be in the loop. This is particularly relevant due to the fact that LDK has been previously governing alongside the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) widely blamed for the state capture and corruption in Kosovo.

In addition, the new government will be facing difficulties in establishing solid communication with the opposition, which proved to extremely vocal against Kurti personally during the Assembly session and left the room when voting for the new government took place. This is particularly important especially in cases where Kurti needs wide political consensus in relation to the dialogue with Serbia, an issue which will be addressed later on in this article.

Feeling the pressure of state capture and corruption scandals during the premiership of Ramush Haradinaj, during the elections campaign Vetëvendosje and LDK vowed to fight corruption, prosecute politicians tainted by corruption and free the country enslaved from within. Hence, their campaign was widely focused on setting the country straight internally. Later on – once the country is strong –  to deal with issues related to foreign policy, and ensure external liberation with Serbia as stated in one of Kurti’s interviews. However, reality is seldom structured and challenges hardly come in such order.

Just before getting into power, the two agreements signed between Kosovo and Serbia on aviation and railways led by US envoy Richard Grenell, added two more agreements for Kurti to re-consider once he gets his hands on this process. Having major events taking place whilst we were presuming that the dialogue is on hold – gave the first signals of the urgency to face the ‘elephant in the room’. Restoration of dialogue with Serbia appears to be one of the first challenges testing the new government. This process will be taking place under extreme circumstances caused by the uncertainty following the uncoordinated approaches between a very keen to deliver US administration and the new EU High Representative Joseph Borrell struggling to regain the EU role in the dialogue.

In this line, yesterday Kurti has declared full political, economic and trade reciprocity toward Serbia to replace the 100% tariff – which was halting the dialogue, however he did not provide further details nor a date when this is expected to occur. Indeed, the pressure from the international community will be increasing in the upcoming days, this is particularly the case with the US and the already appointed two envoys to give a final push toward the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. This will give the chance to Kurti to once again prove that he opposes ‘quick fixes’ and test his skills to play with all involved stakeholders under serious pressure of time.

Apart from the dialogue with Serbia, the visa liberalization process – a long lasting process passed one from one government to another – will be expected to finally be concluded under Kurti’s premiership. This further adds to the complexity and expectations to deliver on one of the most tangible EU related outcome for the citizens of Kosovo. Of course, this issue heavily depends on the member states, which will call on the new Minister of Foreign Affairs – Glauk Konjufca for a quick and effective revitalization of the diplomacy.

As for the overall EU integration process, given the circumstances and complexities posed for Kosovo, both parties were silent in this regard during the election campaign. While Kosovo was undergoing the elections process, many events that determine the future of the region in the EU integration process have occurred. Henceforth, there is an urgent need to take a proactive role in following these developments, especially the new enlargement methodology recently published by the European Commission.

In this regard, the new government will continue to have the Ministry for European Integration in spite of the massive shrinkage. This has been considered as one of the first decision that the new government undertook to showcase further interest in the process. The next step is serious preparedness for the upcoming EU – Western Balkans summit in Zagreb hosted by Croatia currently holding the EU Presidency.

Albeit not a substitute to the EU integration process, the new government should work toward maximizing the benefits of the Berlin Process as the only high-level political initiative led by EU member states in which Kosovo is represented on equal footing with other regional countries. The next Summit in Skopje and Sofia will be a testing ground for the new government’s commitment on regional cooperation.

The listed challenges reflect only a small portion of the issues that the new government of Kosovo will face mainly on foreign policy and in relation to the dialogue with Serbia. However, in one of his interviews Kurti stated the following: ‘Of course there will be challenges. . . a challenge is a chance’. This will be the chance for the new government to live up to their expectations both internally and externally.

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