Ahead of the expected resumption of the stalled dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, from which Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Kosovo leader Albin Kurti is coming under domestic pressure to get the United States involved in the European Union-facilitated process.
“Without its participation there should be no dialogue,” one opposition party leader, Lumir Abdixhiku, said on Wednesday about US involvement in the talks.
In a series of consultations with party leaders, Prime Minister Kurti met the leader of the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, on Wednesday.
A day earlier he did the same with Ramush Haradinaj, of the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, who also voiced concerns about the lack of US involvement.
“What we see is an absence of United States in the dialogue. We think his is not a good situation for Kosovo, as it damages the balance of interests for Kosovo in the dialogue,” Haradinaj said after the meeting, referencing widespread perceptions that the US is a far more steadfast ally than the EU, five of whose member states do not recognise Kosovo.
The high-level dialogue between, interrupted more than two years ago, is expected to restart next month in Brussels.
However, experts say that opposition attempts to shape the dialogue are weakened by their lack of unity over their goals.
Political analyst Imer Mushkolaj said the three main opposition parties, the PDK, LDK and AAK, remain divided on the way the dialogue should be handled.
The head of the biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, Enver Hoxhaj, has so refused the PM’s request even to meet.
“The opposition does not have a unified position on the dialogue. I see the PDK having only angry reactions. They are behaving like they have never managed the dialogue,” Mushkolaj told BIRN.
Abdixhiku of the LDK also asked Kurti to keep the parliament informed about the dialogue “before and after the meetings” in Brussels. “We made a request to do with [Kosovo’s] political position. Kosovo needs to know what the government’s position about the dialogue is,” Abdixhiku said.
He said he had submitted a document outlining the LDK’s view on the position Kosovo should maintain in the dialogue to Kurti, based on three key principles: discussions are to be held on the basis of the 2010 International Court of Justice ruling supporting Kosovo’s right to declare independence, the territorial integrity of Kosovo and its constitutional order.
Publicist Veton Surroi on Monday meanwhile said that he will join an advisory team established by the government to assist the negotiation team in Brussels.
Speaking to Pristina-based TV channel Klan Kosova, Surroi stated that any final agreement must lead to a “full normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia” and to “opening the door to NATO and EU integration.”
Since 2011, talks between the two sides have brought some progress in technical issues but not on the main political point of Kosovo’s independence. An attempt by the US in 2020 under Donald Trump to nudge matters forward foundered after Kosovo President Hashim Thaci was indicted for war crimes and had abruptly to resign.
y Agon Demjaha and Pol Vila Sarriá
Since the declaration of independence in February 2008, Kosovo has considered the accession into the European Union (EU) as one of the key strategic priorities of its foreign policy. However, the accession process has shown to be rather cumbersome and complicated. Although twenty-two EU member states have recognized Kosovo’s independence, the five non-recognizers – Slovakia, Romania, Greece, Cyprus and Spain – continue to block Kosovo’s accession to the EU. As a result, Kosovo lags considerably behind the rest of the countries from the region, as the last country to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in 2015, and the only one in the Western Balkans without freedom of movement of its citizens. The insistence of the five non-recognizers on the EU’s status-neutral position towards Kosovo’s independence has in addition to undermining Kosovo’s state-building, has also basically made its further progress towards the EU impossible regardless of the fulfilment of the accession criteria.
Currently, it looks implausible that the five EU non-recognisers would eventually move forward in recognizing Kosovo’s statehood without a binding agreement for the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. This has recently been confirmed by the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Arancha Gonzalez, who underlined that Spain will maintain its principled position not to recognize Kosovo until there is an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. However, while Greece and Slovakia as the so-called “soft non-recognisers” despite non-recognition have had fairly significant and continued engagement with Kosovo, Spain and Cyprus as “hard non-recognisers”, have adopted a completely uncompromising position towards Kosovo. In recent years, Spain is considered the toughest hard-line EU member state in terms of both, its bilateral and multilateral relations with Kosovo. This has been especially evident in relation to Kosovo’s EU integration process, in which Spain has played a rather obstructive role.
In principle, Spain opposes Kosovo’s accession process into the EU, since according to Treaty on European Union (TEU) only European states can join the EU, which in Spain’s view – Kosovo is not. Consequently, the Spanish Government has blocked any EU decision related to Kosovo that did not comply with status neutral clause. As a result, Kosovo’s SAA represents a sui generis Agreement since it was signed for the first time between the EU and Kosovo to avoid non-recognisers vetoing. Furthermore, the SAA signed with Kosovo did not refer at all to statehood and maintained status neutral position towards Kosovo. Moreover, the SAA clearly stated that the agreement “does not constitute recognition of Kosovo by the EU as an independent State nor does it constitute recognition by individual member states of Kosovo in that capacity where they have not taken such a step.” Spain also insisted that the Agreement did not mention Kosovo’s European integration or future membership in the Union, as stated in the SAAs of other Western Balkan states. Therefore, the agreement refers only to “Kosovo’s European perspective”, since for Spain, speaking about ‘EU integration’ automatically implies EU membership, thus entailing that Kosovo is being de facto recognized.
On the other hand, although Spain has played a distinct role in limiting Kosovo’s integration process into the EU, it has been rather supportive of the EU mediated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. Firstly, similarly to other non-recognisers, Spain also supports the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Pristina and good neighbourly relations in the WB region. Secondly, Madrid believes that as long as the Brussels dialogue takes place under a status neutral position, it does not undermine its position on Kosovo statehood. Thirdly, and most importantly, if normalisation means mutual recognition, the dialogue would resolve Madrid’s ‘uncomfortable’ position by allowing Spain to follow suit.
One should note however, that since June 2018 the new government led by socialist PM Pedro Sanchez has shown certain willingness for enhancing its relations with Kosovo. In May 2020, PM Sanchez attended, for the first time, the (online) Western Balkans summit in Zagreb, where Kosovo was also represented, albeit without flags or titles. In addition, Josep Borrell’s appointment as EU High Representative in 2019 has also contributed to softening the Spanish position towards Kosovo. Recently, efforts were made to open new channels of communications between Kosovo and Spain through non-political ways, as long as this does not undermine the Spanish position on statehood. Similarly to Greece and Slovakia, Spain should accept that engagement with Kosovo does not imply recognition. Hence, Madrid should consider accepting Kosovo’s travelling documents and open more channels of communications with Kosovo civil society and the cultural and business sector. In doing so, Spain would be in a more comfortable position to establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo, in the case of eventual mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia.
In the framework of the qualifications for the world championship in Qatar, on 31 March 2021, the football match between the national teams of Spain and Kosovo took place in Sevilla. Despite initial resistance, Spain’s readiness to organize the match in accordance with FIFA and UEFA rules, by respecting the sovereignty, flag and national anthem of Kosovo, might perhaps represent the first concrete step towards improving relations between the two countries.
This article was written as part of a wider research and advocacy efforts supported by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society in the context of ‘Kosovo Research and Analysis Fellowship’. Agon Demjaha is Associate Professor of Political Sciences and International Relations at the Tetovo University. Pol Vila Sarriá is a Fellow of the Kosovo Research and Analysis Fellowhip, Project Officer at the Trans European Policy Studies Association (TEPSA) and Political Analyst at ‘El Orden Mundial’.