European Western Balkans

Is the new Kosovo government a chance for Belgrade-Pristina dialogue to continue?

Pristina, Kosovo; Photo: European Union

Just over a month after the Kosovo Assembly passed a no-confidence motion for Albin Kurti as prime minister, it voted in favour of a new government led by Avdullah Hoti, the deputy head of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

However, the new government did not form after elections were held. The President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi give a mandate to Hoti to form a new administration without holding new elections, which Constitutional Court assessed to be a constitutional move on 28 May.

On the other hand, Kurti described the court ruling as “unfair” and “unacceptable”, while his party Vetëvendosje (VV) insisted that the country should hold new elections, calling on Thaçi to dissolve the assembly after losing the no-confidence vote. Even though Vetëvendosje has the biggest public support, Thaçi gave Hoti the mandate after Kurti’s party did not nominate anyone to replace him as prime minister. The new government was voted with only 86 MPs present in the 120-seat chamber, 61 MPs voted for the new cabinet, 1 abstained and 24 voted against.

Executive Director of the CiviKos Platform and member of Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) Donika Emini said for European Western Balkans that it is the first time that the government is being formed by the second-placed party.

“The Constitutional Court paved the way to form the government, hence for it to be considered legal. But the government clearly lacks legitimacy. The government is unstable, the 61s vote that the Hoti Government needed was ensured by President Thaçi and Former PM Haradinaj. This has been publicly accepted by one of the MPs in his speech during the assembly session”, explains Emini adding that the explicit influence of the President (which should serve as the unification figure) and the Former PM who has given up his mandate in the Parliament speak volume about the stability of this government.

Milica Andrić, journalist at KoSSev portal based in North Mitrovica, agrees that the political situation will certainly not be stable.

“The new government has a very small majority on the one hand, and there are two strong opposition parties, PDK and VV, on the other. This means that only the most urgent initiatives will pass in the Assembly, such as the ratification of loan agreements with international financial institutions”, explains Andrić.

She adds that when it comes to the government, it is expected that there is a consensus on the abolition of reciprocity measures and the continuation of dialogue with Belgrade, which is, as it is widely perceived in the Kosovo public, the reason why this government was formed, but everything after that is a big unknown because the new coalition partners received the votes of citizens on completely different platforms.

“For example, Ramush Haradinaj’s party, Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), ran an election campaign under the slogan “100% state” and insisted on maintaining tariffs as a trade measure against Serbia, and now its ministers in Hoti’s cabinet are expected to annul the latest measure, which is even harsher than tariffs. Similarly, in the campaign, the LDK advocated the fight against corruption and a break up with the ‘war wing’ policy with which it has now formed a coalition”, Andrić points out adding that the government on such grounds and with such a serious opposition, will not be able to survive for long.

Donika Emini adds that this government, established under very unclear circumstances and sponsored by Thaçi, is detached from the citizens, explaining that protests are expected to take place further destabilizing the country internally.

“Kosovo is facing unprecedented economic crisis, this will further add to the overall dissatisfaction toward the government. Add to this the dialogue with Serbia led alongside Thaçi – one of the most unpopular politicians in Kosovo especially in relation to the dialogue and his role in pushing forward the territorial exchange idea alongside Vučić”, Emini points out.

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

“Agreement between Serbia and Kosovo is necessary for Kosovo’s EU accession process”

The Belgrade-Pristina dialogue stopped in 2018, and nothing has happened since. In November 2018, Pristina imposed 100% tariffs on goods imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the other hand, Serbia has been very active in its campaign for withdrawal of recognition of Kosovo all around the world.

In the meantime, President Donald Trump appointed US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as his special envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue in October 2019.

However, the US is not the only party who appointed a special representative. The EU chose Miroslav Lajčák as an EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and other regional issues in the Western Balkans in April this year.

Talks about the resumption of the dialogue are more and more present in the media. Grenell is urging for the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo to be reached as soon as possible. Both Grenell and Lajčák congratulated on the formation of the Kosovo government saying they hope it will lead to the resumption of the dialogue and ultimately to the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo.

“Looking forward to closely working with him [Hoti] on the EU facilitated dialogue and towards a European perspective for the people of Kosovo,” Lajčák said pointing out that an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo is necessary for Kosovo’s EU accession process.

Emini agrees that the new government was formed with a single and most important mission of paving the way for the final deal.

“The Hoti Government has listed the dialogue as their top priority. This, of course, is being heralded more as the mission to re-build the broken strategic relations with the US (traditionally established and build by LDK, but ruined by VV in the past three months). The new government led by the LDK claims to have ‘red lines’ in relation to the territorial exchange but remains very unclear about the potential other alternatives beyond those already discussed to date”, says Emini.

Andrić confirms that the government of Avdullah Hoti has already been declared the “Government of Dialogue” and the expectation to enter into a dialogue with Belgrade is widespread.

“Commitment to ‘removing obstacles to dialogue’ is even one of the points of the coalition agreement between the Serbian List (minority party) and the LDK. I would be personally surprised that, if the new government survives, the dialogue does not happen, but it is to be expected that the agreement reached in that way will not be easily implemented. Hoti’s government has been struggling with the problem of legitimacy since day one. Therefore, it is difficult to expect that it will be able to implement any agreement that does not imply unconditional recognition,” Andrić explains adding that such an agreement, however, is not realistic to expect.

Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti; Photo: Flickr / GazetaTjeter Redaksia

However, Emini described her expectation – which represents the general perception of public opinion in Kosovo – that the new government will be more willing to cooperate with President Thaçi.

“To be more precise, I expect that the government will subordinate to Thaçi and will have a minimal impact in shaping the final agreement (should that take place before the election in the US and in case if President Vučić is ready to move forward in the process). The government will be very weak in political power to push things forward and even weaker in the parliament. Thus, it is expected to serve as a political tool to finish the agreement with Serbia and then fall – paving the way for the next elections,” Emini explains.

However, she points out to the fact that if the dialogue does not result in the final agreement, the new government will serve as a tool to strengthen state capture and tighten the grip of the strong leaders seeking more control.

“Judging by the latest events, it is evident that the US will be the driving force behind the dialogue, it will be up to the EU to join the caravan or exclude itself from the process”, concludes Emini.

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