Misha Savic, 03/06/2020
Kosovo approved a new government, overcoming a protracted power struggle by appointing as prime minister a moderate economist who has vowed to lift a trade barrier on Serbia goods.
Lawmakers approved Avdullah Hoti, a U.K-educated former finance minister, to lead the next government on Wednesday. Hoti’s center-right Democratic League is in a ruling coalition with several smaller parties to replace outgoing Premier Albin Kurti, who was ousted in March after stonewalling on the question of reopening talks with Belgrade.
The key challenge for the new cabinet will be to restart talks with Serbia, which refuses to recognize Kosovo as a country. Both countries, which fought a 1998-1999 war before Kosovo unilaterally seceded from Serbia almost decade later, need to mend ties to qualify for European Union membership.
“We’ll work to preserve friendships, without which Kosovo cannot make progress toward EU integration,” Hoti said before the vote.
Several hundred protesters demonstrated outside of Kosovo’s parliament, demanding early elections. Kurti’s party boycotted the vote appointing Hoti.
Kosovo, one of Europe’s poorest countries, is still struggling to achieve full international recognition, which Serbia has used support from allies Russia and China to oppose. Belgrade’s lobbying against letting Kosovo join world bodies prompted Pristina to impose a retaliatory tariff on goods from its neighbor in 2018, all but halting trade and stalling EU-brokered negotiations.
Under western pressure, Kurti partially removed the trade barrier but refused to return to the talks, and denounced a possible land deal between Serbia and Kosovo, floated by the respective presidents, Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Thaci.
Kurti also accused U.S. envoy Richard Grenell of helping push him out of office after less than two months in power. As the winner of October elections, Kurti unsuccessfully pushed for a snap ballot instead of being replaced by his then-deputy Hoti.
Hoti has pledged to allow free trade with Serbia, as advised by the U.S. and the EU, though his coalition cabinet includes a hardline party whose leader and war veteran, Ramush Haradinaj, introduced the punitive tax.
The new premier said he won’t allow Kosovo’s borders to be redrawn. But he added that the immediate priority would be fighting the pandemic and working for an economic recovery after the Covid-19 crisis.
“The dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia on reaching a final agreement is a vital interest of Kosovo,” he said. “We will take the responsibility for advancing the process of dialog, with European Union and the U.S., without allowing change of borders or an exchange of territories.”