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A new government for Kosovo

The question now is whether the new Kosovar government will be able to stand up to the requirements and aspirations of the people, with a representative coalition of both a centre left and centre right party in charge.

February 28, 2020 - Grejs Gjergji - Articles and Commentary

Parliament of Kosovo. Photo: Arianit (cc) wikimedia.org

On February 2nd 2020 the two main political parties emerging from the October 2019 parliamentary elections in Kosovo finally reached an agreement on the formation of a new government. The agreement was presented to the parliament for approval the next day after months of negotiations between the two parties. These elections are important on several levels for the political life in the country. First, we have a new political party, which is for the first time in power and has not been subject to accusations of corruption. These elections can also be seen as a result of an anti-establishment vote by the Kosovar citizens.

Second, the new government has to face important challenges domestically, sharing power with a centre right party, putting the government to the test as it tries to push for reforms while having to restart the normalisation process with Serbia, in which further engagement by the EU is much needed.

The winners of the pre-term October elections was Lëvizja Vetëvendosje (Self-determination Movement) which gained 26.27 per cent of the votes, followed by Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës (Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK) which gained 24.55 per cent of the votes. It is important to remember that these elections followed the resignation of the Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj called by the special court established in The Hague and in Kosovo to investigate crimes during the 1998-99 Kosovo War. According to Kosovo’s Constitution, a majority of the 120 members of parliament need to endorse the new government. However, only 66 members of the parliament participated in the vote, with ten MPs abstaining while the members of the opposition left the room prior to the vote.

Many consider the results of these elections as a response to the political elites of Kosovo failing to fulfil the people’s aspirations for reforms in much needed areas like the economy, education and health care, often being accused by the opposition of corruption and mismanagement of the country. Kosovo remains one of the poorest countries in Europe.

For the first time, the Self-determination Movement will be in power. In 2017, this party also received most of the popular votes but was unable to create a government due to the large coalition formed mainly around figures considered as “war commandants” and which included a large majority of the political parties in Kosovo such as the big traditional parties of PDK, Nisma and AAK.

The question now is whether the new Kosovar government will be able to stand up to the requirements and aspirations of the people, since this marriage includes a centre left party with a centre right party. An added challenge is not only the differences in their programmes but also the fact that the LDK had been previously in power with the other ruling parties and much contested by the Self-determination Movement.

The Self-determination Movement began as a grassroots organisation, holding demonstrations against international presence in Kosovo after the war. They had called for full independence of the country and were against the Ahtisaari Plan (the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement proposed to the UN Security Council which was included in Kosovo’s Constitution in 2008 and which foresees the protection of the rights of the other communities in Kosovo and ensuring their representation in the public sphere through reserved seats in the parliament and government, while establishing more local autonomy). They had also protested against UN resolution 1244, adopted by the UN Security Council and still applicable today in Kosovo. The resolution made the deployment of international missions in the country possible while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Self-determination Movement has a social democratic-leaning vision of development for the country arguing against the harsh neo-liberal policies of the governing elite of Kosovo which were in place during the 12 years of independence.

The movement first entered parliament in 2010 and soon after published on their webpage a programme for the development of the country based on such pillars as the Rule of Law and the developing of the state which includes fiscal policies, energy, education, sciences and social services like social protection, health, retirement, etc.

The second partner, LDK, is led by Vjosa Osmani. Educated in the United States, Osmani represents a new political class and aspiration for the country. After the creation of the coalition, Osmani became the speaker of the Kosovo Assembly, the first time a woman took on this role in this small Balkan country. LDK was the political party previously directed by Ibrahim Rugova, the leader who created parallel structures of government during the repressive Slobodan Milošević regime, promoting peaceful resistance to the oppression. After the war, Rugova served as president of the country. In justifying the decision to join the coalition, Osmani has emphasised continuously in interviews that it was the result of putting national interests ahead of those of both political parties.

In his speech to the parliament, Albin Kurti, leader of the Self-determination party, outlined the key elements and direction for the new government. He announced plans to concentrate on establishing economic, political and commercial reciprocity with Serbia and removing the 100 per cent tax on products imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was established in October 2018. This measure had frozen the dialogue mediated by the European Union’s High Representative and came as a result of Serbia’s international campaign for the withdrawal of Kosovo’s recognition. According to Osmani, the reciprocity is a part of the agreements concluded between Kosovo and Serbia with the EU’s mediation and affirms the need for their full implementation. Richard Grenell, who was serving as the representative of the United States designated especially for the normalisation process (and has just been appointed as head of the intelligence office at the White House – editor’s note), voiced concern regarding the reciprocity measures that were announced by the new government.

Kurti’s programme also includes the creation of a Sovereign Fund which will aim to re-evaluate all publicly owned enterprises in hopes of attracting foreign investment and access to foreign markets and the creation of a development bank for assisting small and medium-sized enterprises. Other points include more protection for workers, guaranteeing a 40-hour workweek, a concentration on youth and women employment and establishing a minimum wage.

Kurti indicated a new vetting process that will take place in the police and judiciary, and procurement programmes with the help of international organisations in the country and on filing for crimes against Serbia with the International Court of Justice (previous prime ministers have used this declaration in elections. It remains to be seen whether this will happen in the case of the new government). He also declared the will for the transformation of the Kosovo Security Forces into an army in due time and future membership in NATO. One of the first decisions of the government was to repeal the decision of the previous government which raised their own salaries by 100 per cent.

However, this new government will have to face numerous difficulties, both domestic and foreign. In fact, numerous agreements reached through the EU mediation process have not been implemented and many other important issues remain to be addressed in the normalisation process with Serbia. The north of Kosovo is still not under total control of the central Kosovar government, and the integration of Kosovo Serbs in the country requires a transformation, which should be a result of their direct participation in institutions and an open dialogue and full co-operation between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo.

The dialogue process with Serbia should also restart. One challenge here is the fact that the new EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, comes from Spain, a country that does not recognise Kosovo. Kosovo has not obtained visa liberalisation with the EU, which especially affects young people. Overall, the EU needs a renewed, more dynamic approach to Kosovo, with its full engagement in the process of normalisation of relations with Serbia and assistance towards EU integration. It is important to note that the discussion on territorial exchange between the two presidents of Serbia and Kosovo seems to be no longer on the table as both coalition parties were strongly opposed to this idea.

The latest agreement reached during the Munich Security Conference earlier this month on the construction of rail and road links between Belgrade and Pristina was the result of an American initiative with Grenell at the helm. However, as the new Prime Minister Kurti commented, the deal was being concluded by the old cabinet and there was a lack of transparency concerning the contents of the deal.

Grejs Gjergji is a student at the post-graduate institute of European Studies, College of Europe in Natolin. She holds a Master Degree in European Law from Pantheon-Sorbonne, Paris 1 University.

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