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Has the EU Commission’s Assessment on Kosovo Evolved into a Non-Event?

Similar to previous years, this year there is a recurrence of a high number of recommendations in various areas/chapters including those related to rule of law, competition and environment, amongst others. Additionally, the Commission stands behind its assessment that Kosovo has fulfilled all visa liberalization benchmarks, confirmed also by the European Parliament while still pending in the Council.

An analysis of the report on the level of progress and preparedness demonstrates that Kosovo has made no progress in two areas, limited progress in 15 areas, and some progress in 18 areas; whereas it is in an early phase of preparation in 11 areas, it has some level of preparation in 20 areas and has moderate level of preparation only in four areas.

Yet, in this opinion piece I do not focus on the elaboration of these recommendations and potential changes occurred, partially due to its unsurprising content. Instead, I elaborate on how the report was accepted by institutions and political elites while analyzing the dimension of social media usage since these platforms are becoming more and more important in nurturing, reaching, sharing, and engaging with the community.

Politicians in Kosovo use various social media platforms to share information about their activities with the constituency, amongst others. The activities shared include information ranging from their daily doings to accomplishments in the national and international level. Once you analyze their social media platforms, one would expect to see a post/comment, a tweet, or a picture in relation to the release of the 2021 Enlargement package and Kosovo Country Report. However, the three social media platforms analyzed including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram of the heads of main institutions including Presidency, Government, and Parliament, and of all heads of political parties in Kosovo including the opposition show that those who posted or twitted about the Country Report findings are outliers. The data gathered, of all active users, demonstrates that the majority of the political elites and heads of institutions did not care to post a picture and/or comment on the release of the Country Report. Further, I have checked if they have posted on the same day when the report was released (October 19, 2021) and one day after (October 20, 2021). The results from social media reveal that the heads of institutions have not posted on these two days, while the heads of opposition political parties have posted about other activities on these days. If they have posted on the same day about other events, this can be considered an indication that on purpose they have overlooked the Commission’s assessment. Additionality, this shows that opposition parties have disregarded the report as a basis for criticism towards the government, though in practice they utilize various means to criticize the government. Their behavior could be partially explained by the fact that they were governing during half a year of what the report assesses, meaning that they are responsible for ‘half of the findings’.

The outlier mentioned above is the President of Kosovo who one day after the release of the report held a press conference to address its findings and livestreamed it on Facebook. The President’s comments were mainly related to the vetting process, an essential and a necessary step from her perspective, while the Commission highlights that an immediate and simultaneous vetting process is a serious concern. On the other hand, the Prime Minister held a press conference on the day the report was presented to him by the Head of the EU office in Kosovo and he mainly talked about the progress achieved in his six months in office, stating figures and numbers. Though, this press conference was covered by traditional media, this event and his comments were not shared in any of his social media despite him being an active social media user.

Thus, what does the low attention for the Country Report imply for the EU’s transformative power? One explanatory variable could be the weakening of the EU conditionality policy due to their reluctance to deliver on the promised carrots, in the case of Kosovo – the visa liberalization. This is also a clear indication that the EU is losing its leverage in the Balkans. Another explanatory dimension could be the declining interest to pursue various reforms due to higher political costs and low or non-tangible benefits for the country. Another added-on explanatory dimension could be the “predictable” content of the report, that leads to difficulties in garnering attention in the political and public discourse.

To summarize, the lower the attention the country report gets, the less it is discussed in traditional and social media platforms, and the less its findings are a concern for the public at large, the lower its impact will be on changing government policies and behavior. The Commission’s assessment becoming a non-event, as evidenced by an analysis of the social media, should serve as an awakening alarm for the EU’s transformative power in the Balkans.

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