Kosovo risks going into international isolation as a result of decisions made by the government which are being opposed by the European Union, the United States of America and NATO. Kosovo has cemented its objective to integrate in the European Union and the North-Atlantic Alliance and to maintain its partnership with the United States of America. The recent actions by the government however are in opposition to the principles promoted by the abovementioned organizations. Western diplomats, in their recent visits to Pristina, have told this to government officials. After the EU, NATO – which guards Kosovo’s borders – too has called for a halt to the initiative to transform the Kosovo Security Force into an army. The Haradinaj-led government however is determined not to back down on its decisions for the tax against Serbia and the formation of the Army. They are adamant that Kosovo’s relations with international partners would not be questioned under no circumstance. Leaders of institutions were threatened with isolation last year too when they launched the initiative to undo the Specialist Chambers that will try alleged crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Following international pressure, Thaci, Haradinaj and Veseli backed down on their initiative to paralyze the specialist chambers through the votes of MPs.
“Populism with the Army”
Proceeding with actions, which do not enjoy the support of international partners, is being viewed as a high-risk path. Political analyst, Imer Muhskolaj, said the issue of the army is populist and that the government is aware of this. “The government is trying by all means to claim at least one success story among the numerous failures that have happened this year. After the failure to join INTERPOL and visa liberalization, the transformation of the KSF is their only card and this is why they are trying to push forward this process by any means necessary,” Mushkolaj said. He further argued that in doing so, the government is trying to cover up other failures and present this to the people as a big achievement. “This is a sensitive issue and this calls for calculated actions, especially vis-à-vis NATO. It will be damaging to insist on something even if there is no support from abroad,” he said. Mushkolaj argued that there should have been serious analysis before making the two decisions – on the tax and the army. “Kosovo is isolated but there is a risk of even greater isolation”.
Prime Minister Haradinaj has been warned about the consequences that Kosovo will face if it proceeds on its own with the adoption of the laws for KSF transformation. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had a telephone conversation with Haradinaj on Thursday, one day after Brussels criticized the Kosovo government that the initiative for the army “comes at the wrong time”.
“With Haradinaj I raised concerns about the plan to transform the Kosovo Security Force into an army. I emphasized that such an action is inappropriate and against the advice of many NATO allies and it could have consequences for Kosovo’s prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration. I reiterated that the KSF mandate must evolve and that NATO must review the level of cooperation with the Kosovo Security Force,” Stoltenberg was quoted as saying in a NATO press release. “I also talked with Vucic about the need to reduce the current tensions. I reminded both that the EU-brokered dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is the only way to bring sustainable peace and stability to the region. NATO remains committed to security and stability in Kosovo through its peacekeeping mission, KFOR”.
Haradinaj later commented on his conversation with Stoltenberg, saying that the Kosovo Assembly will vote on the army on December 14. “I expressed understanding for his position from the multilateral standpoint on the transition process, at the same time I informed Secretary General Stoltenberg that Kosovo is committed to the transitioning of the KSF that will result in a professional, multiethnic and credible army that will serve all citizens of Kosovo. This sovereign decision of Kosovo, which will be voted on December 14, incorporates the vision and will of the people of Kosovo to safeguard Western values,” Haradinaj said. He also called as inaccurate the statements by Serbian officials that the KSF is preparing to send troops to the north. Haradinaj said these statements are aimed at scaring Serbs living in the north.
Draft laws voted at the Kosovo Assembly have only passed the first reading. A second reading is required before they can get the president’s seal of approval. Once the draft laws were approved there was enthusiasm among the top leaders. The country that declared independence in 2008 has failed in the previous attempts, initially to transform the KSF into Kosovo Armed Forces (FAK) and later to transform KSF into a military organisation.
Judging from what it is stated in the three draft laws regulating the role of the KSF, legal experts say the constitutional mandate and function of the force has not changed. Former Constitutional Court president, Enver Hasani, said a full army in substance and composition, with a mandate to protect the national sovereignty can be formed only through constitutional changes and through a long-term process. The current attempt to form the army through a law does not foresee additional financial backing for KSF in short-term, offers gradual dynamics of the mission and the mandate advancement and aims to have the transition completed in ten years’ time.
Following the battle for Interpol membership which Kosovo lost, Serbia launched a campaign to oppose KSF transformation and the 100-percent tax. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is using the army issue to speak about “dimensions” of the catastrophe that could be incited in Kosovo. “We are in a situation not only to play chess with those aided by the 10 whisperers, from Germany, UK, France. And we have to think not only about who plans what but whether someone could be hit oneself and the rest with the chess board. When we have such an unpredictable opponent, this is inevitably a problem,” Vucic said commenting on the forming of a Kosovo army. He called on EU to intervene in order to squash the army initiative as well as the tax decision.
Pressure on tax
The government has reached a critical point in relation to European Union following the decision to increase the tax, a day after it failed to become member of Interpol as a result of a wild campaign by Serbia. In the discussions between coalition partners, there was a proposal initially to increase the tax to 30 percent but the leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) Kadri Veseli said he requested the tax be raised at 100 percent.
Mutual Kosovo-EU disappointment was evident during the visit of the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn to Pristina who avoided joint public appearances with Kosovo institutional leaders. From the EU Office in Pristina, he called for the tax to be lifted saying it was in violation to European values which Kosovo aspires to embrace. Commissioner Hahn also confirmed that there will be no visa liberalisation for Kosovo before 2020. This was because many EU countries have expressed skepticism regarding the rule of law in Kosovo and the possible wave of asylum seekers.
The government criticized the EU for lack of decision-making on visa liberalisation. But the balance is not in Kosovo’s favour when it comes to implementation of criteria stemming from another contractual agreement with the EU. When the government had signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), there was enthusiasm on the part of PM Haradinaj that Kosovo would soon apply for candidate status.
However, according to government’s final report on implementation of European Reform Agenda (ERA) covering the 2016-2018 period, Kosovo has fulfilled only 9 out of 22 set priorities. Institutions could not implement even half of the outlined tasks. Another unfinished work includes approval of the legislation for obligatory dismissal of public officials accused and convicted of corruption.