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The aftermath of the Washington Agreements

The Washington Agreements signed with Kosovo and Serbia last month raise many questions, including how they will be implemented and what the political fallout in Kosovo might be.

October 6, 2020 - Grejs Gjergji - Hot Topics

Photo: BalkansCat / Shutterstock

On September 4th Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić signed an agreement aimed at normalising economic relations between the two states under the auspices of United States President Donald Trump and his representative for the dialogue process, Richard Grenell.

In the press conference following the event, Hoti asserted that the agreement expressed the will of the people of Kosovo and that it did not require ratification by the parliament because of its nature as an engagement of the government of Kosovo. In fact, Hoti started the process of reporting on the agreement in front of parliament and the dialogue he engaged in with the EU on September 17th. This agreement was largely criticised by the opposition as being essentially political and not bringing the recognition of the state of Kosovo as promised by the representatives before starting the negotiations.

In fact, the agreement was signed by both of the parties separately, except for the relevant dispositions for the establishment of railways and highways linking the two countries and dispositions concerning the interruption of Kosovo’s attempts to be part of international organisations, with Serbia promising to stop its de-recognition campaign. This engagement by Kosovo might have significant consequences, taking into account its fragile statehood. Indeed, the lack of control of the northern part of Mitrovica by central governmental authorities, where cross-border criminality is still flourishing, combined with its lack of recognition by five members of the European Union and the failure – until now- to become a member of important international organisations, specifically the latest failure to become a full member of UNESCO in 2015, are all elements that constitute a real risk to the fragile statehood of Kosovo. Therefore, Kosovo’s engagement to stop its recognition campaign might add to the fragile status of the country.

The questions that have arisen from this agreement amongst the general public and the media have been numerous – linked mainly to the lack of clarity about the content of the agreement, the negotiation process and the scope of the Kosovo government’s intended gains for the country. The main negotiator was Hoti, the prime minister of a new coalition that was created by 61 votes of Kosovo’s Parliament in June 2020, following a motion to censure the former coalition in government, which was formed after the elections on October 6th 2019. This voting succeeded a decision by the Constitutional Court, which gave a mandate to President Hashim Thaçi to nominate the new government without proceeding to new elections.

A question that might arise is to what extent the citizens of Kosovo have been duly informed and given their consent to the agreement signed in Washington. Another important point that has surfaced is the long engagement of Kosovo and Serbia in the dialogue process through the mediation of the High Representative of the European Union.

In fact, starting with EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, followed by Federica Mogherini and now Josep Borell, accompanied by the newly designated negotiator for the dialogue Miroslav Lajčák, the EU has been committed to the normalisation process between both countries. Agreements have been achieved, such as the mutual recognition of university diplomas, solutions to energy questions and telecommunication companies permitting Kosovo to obtain its own dialling system prefix, among many other issues discussed and agreed upon through this EU-led process. The culmination of these negotiations was the Brussels Agreement of April 19th 2013, predicting the creation of an Association of Serbian Municipalities, which the Constitutional Court of Kosovo declared unconstitutional, but which nonetheless has become central to the Serbian representatives engaged in the negotiations led by the EU. The success of the EU-led negotiation process has been mitigated, as some of the agreements have been achieved but still not implemented. Will the Washington Agreements have a similar fate?

Furthermore, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (Aleanca per Ardhmerine e Kosoves, AAK), members of the ruling coalition, declared a potential withdrawal from the government if the agreement included management of the Ujman Lake, later withdrawing this statement. It is important to note that this lake is essential for the energy viability of Kosovo, as it serves to cool the country’s power plants.

As the American analyst Daniel Sewer has emphasised, the agreement was concluded within the frame of the presidential elections in the US, and we should actually expect greater results and stronger commitment from the EU-led negotiations in Brussels.

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

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