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2023 European Commission Report on Kosovo: When stability trumps reforms – Report amid ‘reversible’ measures against Kosovo

This piece was originally published on BiEPAG blog.

The EU Country Report for 2023 brings mixed dynamics for Kosovo. Following five years of recommending visa liberalisation for Kosovo, the Commission welcomed the Council and the European Parliament’s decision to lift the visa requirements for Kosovo. However, the report maintains its focus and reports on the ongoing challenge of combating corruption as a key benchmark in the visa liberalisation roadmap.

Aside from the visa liberalisation process, the report does not convey an enthusiastic tone for Kosovo. This year, the report has been launched amid the lowest point of relations between Kosovo and the EU, with the ‘reversible’ measures put in place toward Kosovo in June persisting and with a high degree of uncertainty as to whether they will be lifted.

The EU assessed the performance of the Kosovo government in implementing the EU reforms. However, during almost half of the reporting period, there was limited cooperation and coordination on the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Additionally, the EU even postponed some consultation meetings with civil society following the imposed measures. This has sent a discouraging message to those advocating for the EU reform agenda in the country.

As expected, the EU report, while explicitly recognising Kosovo’s commitment to its European path, briefly addresses the EU membership application submitted by Kosovo in December 2022. In contrast to Georgia, where the EU proudly endorsed the proposal for candidate status, Kosovo’s application was met with conspicuous silence.

As the EU already made clear, the measures were implemented due to Kosovo’s lack of constructive engagement in the EU-facilitated dialogue and tensions in the north following local elections in four Serbian-majority municipalities. Seemingly, the annual report has assessed a highly challenging security and stability situation on the ground.

Thus, the primary focus was clearly on the security situation in Kosovo, marked by intense tensions, culminating in what is considered by the EU the ‘violent attack’ in Banjska on September 24, a stark contrast to the government’s characterisation of the incident as a terrorist act. Furthermore, the report looks like a call for the Government of Kosovo to engage in the EU-facilitated Dialogue, demanding concrete actions which ensure the implementation of the Agreement on the Path to Normalisation of relations with Serbia and its Implementation Annex. Again, the EU highlighted the desperation for Kosovo to undertake a decisive de-escalation plan as the only way to reverse the measures. Until then, the financial support for Kosovo to implement the EU reforms will remain impacted.

As far as reforms are concerned, the report served as a wake-up call for the Kosovo government, the latter sharing a less enthusiastic response compared to the previous year. The report highlighted insufficient progress in areas prioritised by the government. There is limited progress shown in the judicial sector. The EU continues to insist on a vetting process in full accordance with the Venice Commission’s recommendation. It, however, acknowledges limitations due to the Lista Srpska boycott in the parliament. The efforts of the Kosovo Government in its quest to fight against corruption, another key election promise, showed limited progress contrary to expectations.

The disrupted work of the parliament has been seen as a key factor posing a significant challenge to implementing EU reforms, revealing a lack of political will from Vetëvendosje to engage with the opposition, hindering progress despite having a parliamentary majority. Furthermore, the Lista Srpska boycott of the Parliament has been seen with immense concern.

While the report acknowledged civil society’s contribution in certain areas, it expressed concerns about freedom of speech and journalist safety and urged the government to enhance mechanisms for journalist protection. In this regard, the suspension of Klan Kosova’s license by the Kosovo Business Registration Agency was viewed as potentially detrimental to media freedom.

In general, the report oscillated between addressing security and stability, emphasising the need for increased political engagement in the dialogue with Serbia. In terms of reforms, it signals the end of the honeymoon period for the Government of Kosovo.

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