Monday

13th Jul 2020

Opinion

Kosovo mess: Made in the EU

  • Thaci (l) unveils 2013 Serbia accord with his EU and Serbian interlocutors (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

On 25 August, Kosovo and Serbia signed the second “landmark” deal toward “normalisation of relations.” Building on an earlier accord, it clarifies arrangements for the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities (ASM) in Kosovo.

The EU and Kosovo, back in 2013, said the initial agreement was a “historic deal” which would clear the path for Kosovo’s EU integration.

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The promises weren’t met: Kosovo has signed a conditional Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), a pre-accession pact. But it has no visa-free travel. It’s not an official EU candidate. Serbia also blocked its bid to join Unesco, the UN heritage body, showing that relations are far from normal.

The nature of the ASM wasn’t clear from the outset. Kosovo’s ex-prime minister, now foreign affairs minister, Hashim Thaci, pressured parliament to ratify it without truly knowing what it is and what consequences it will bring for the country.

When the smoke surrounding the ASM cleared, it showed that the deal enhances the ASM’s legal base, giving it authority to deliver public functions and services which are not appropriate for an association and which stand in conflict with the competences of central authorities.

The opposition began to contest the 25 August agreement on grounds that it exceeds the limits of the 2013 deal, creating an entity which violates Kosovo’s constitution and which could divide Kosovo on ethnic lines.

The opposition requested the government to halt Brussels talks and withdraw its signature from the 25 August accord. It says the technical talks have morphed into talks on Kosovo’s status and sovereignty.

Stubbornness, denial

Kosovo’s coalition government says the claims are false. Thaci even compared the ASM to an NGO, saying it has no executive powers.

The coalition - Thaci’s PDK party (which signed the 2013 accord) and the LDK party of PM Isa Mustafa - controls two-thirds of votes in parliament and treats the opposition concerns with utter contempt.

It decided the 25 August accord doesn’t need parliamentary ratification because it stems from the (already-ratified) 2013 pact, ignoring the entirely new ASM elements which the August deal brings in.

It has the same tyranny-of-the-majority approach on other issues, such as a border demarcation pact with Montenegro, in which Kosovo supposedly stands to lose 8,000 hectares of territory.

With its back against the wall, the opposition turned to obstructionism.

It occupied the speaker’s podium in parliament, blew whistles to interrupt MP’s speeches, and threw eggs and bottles of water.

It fired pepper spray and tear gas inside the national assembly.

This weekend, its street rallies ended in violence.

Despite all this, the PDK-LDK leaders refuse to accept there is a political crisis which merits dialogue.

The parliament speaker, Kadri Veseli, who’s also the PDK vice-president, acts deaf to the complaints. He has held plenary sessions in improvised rooms without opposition MPs, while calling for arrests and prosecutions of demonstrators.

Surely, it is wrong to fire tear gas canisters in parliament. But the fact the police did nothing until Thaci and Mustafa told it to act also raises concern on separation of politics from rule of law.

US and EU

Ever since 1999, the US embassy in Pristina has de facto made all of Kosovo’s big political decisions. Leaders rise and fall in lightning time based on its say-so.

Back in 2011, the then US ambassador Christopher Dell even pulled the name of the new president, Atifete Jahjaga, from an envelope.

“There you go,” he said, I paraphrase: “You have your president. Enjoy democracy”.

The fear is, not just among the opposition, but also among civil society, that the international community is working with Kosovo’s corrupt elites for the sake of short-term stability.

A short-term stability which undermines prospects for long-term peace and prosperity.

Is there a way out?

Constitutional crisis

Jahjaga, in reaction to the opposition challenge, in the end took the 25 August agreement to the Constitutional Court, prompting furious anger from Serbia.

The court, in its 23 December ruling, said the August accord does indeed violate Kosovo’s charter and put forward recommendations to correct it.

It said the ASM should be based on the original, 2013 agreement. It also said the goverment can bring the 25 August accord into line with the constitution via amendments to the future implementing act and government decree promulgating the 2013 pact.

We’ll have to wait and see if this is an acceptable solution.

But the court’s ruling is, in any case, a blow to the credibility of the EU-US-Thaci-Mustafa clique, and makes the opposition’s protests look less crazy.

Is the EU going to endorse a pact which violates Kosovo’s constitution?

In the past, two Kosovo presidents have resigned when the constitutional tribunal found them in breach. Will Mustafa-Thaci also respect the tradition of accountability?

If not, this weekeend’s protests could mark the beginning of the overthrow of the Mustafa-Thaci government.

The opposition has indicated that it wants the PDK-LDK government to step down; for the EU talks to be halted; and for a national unity body to pursue the process in future.

Would that work? Hard to say.

Opposition credibility

The far-left opposition movement Vetvendosje has radical ideas - a union with Albania - so one can hardly imagine it would help normalise relations with Serbia if it had a seat at the table.

The opposition must also be clear on what the boundaries of legitimate protests are and what it wants.

The annulment of the 2013 agreement is not realistic, as it has been ratified by two-thirds of the Kosovo parliament.

A more do-able demand would be to introduce the Constitutional Court’s recommendations into the implementing act.

Jeton Zulfaj is a post-graduate student of European affairs at Lund University in Sweden

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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