The public disagreements between Kosovo’s President and Prime Minister over the tariffs imposed on goods from Serbia and Bosnia are undermining the country’s negotiating position, an expert has warned.

Die Morina, Arta Sopi, BIRN Pristina, 21.01.2019.

Disagreements between Kosovo leaders over the 100-per-cent tariffs on imports from Serbia and Bosnia are damaging the country’s negotiating position with Serbia, some experts say.

“Clashes between the Prime Minister and the President create the need for an internal deal [on the issue of tariffs],” a Pristina-based journalist, Agron Halitaj, told BIRN.

Pressure on Kosovo from the international community to withdraw the import tax has brought the different stances of its top officials to the surface.

President Hashim Thaci has called on the government of Ramush Haradinaj to respect the US advice and withdraw the tax, noting that “the US is concerned over current developments and some actions taken by state institutions”.

“This is a very unfortunate situation. So now is the moment to respect the advice of our American friend, which aims to strengthen the statehood of Kosovo and the pacification of the region,” Thaci wrote on Facebook on Saturday.

He added that no personal desire of any state leader should dare to hurt country’s state interest and the US strategic interest in Kosovo and beyond.

“Populist actions must not interfere with Kosovo’s vision and strategic decisions. The encroachment of relations with the US, of this sacred alliance, is the beginning of the encroachment of our state,” Thaci wrote.

President Thaci earlier told the Washington Post that Kosovo should “consider lifting the tariffs, if a clear way to proceed towards reaching a Final Peace Agreement with Serbia is opened”.

Prime Minister Haradinaj has repeatedly stated that this will not happen until Serbia recognises the independence of its former province.

“We could remove it [the import tax] today… but never if Serbia is not ready to recognise Kosovo,” Haradinaj said last Wednesday.

Agron Halitaj said that it was wrong for the President to assume responsibilities for matters beyond his competences.

“Based on his constitutional powers, Thaci should be engaged in unity, not in divisions within the ruling coalition partners,” Halitaj said. “This behaviour only damages the state’s position vis-à-vis Serbia,” he added.

“As an authority representing the state both inside and out, he [Thaci] has an obligation to support state policies, rather than disseminate his disagreements with them,” Halitaj continued.

Kosovo’s main US ally last week called on the country to “immediately suspend” the decision on taxes.

“As we earlier stated, we don’t think Kosovo benefits anything from this measure,” the US embassy is quoted to have told the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore last week.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Begjet Pacolli told the public broadcaster, RTK, last Wednesday that Kosovo cannot just reject an explicit US request.

“I don’t believe PM Haradinaj would act against the interests of America,” Pacolli said, adding that he will advise him to take the US request into consideration.

Haradinaj’s position on the issue seemed to soften on January 14, when he demanded only a “guarantee” of future recognition from Serbia.

“The Kosovo government will only temporarily remove the tariff increase if the international community guarantees that we will sit down and sign the final agreement [with Serbia] which should result in mutual recognition,” he wrote on Facebook.

Talking about diplomacy, Pacolli admitted that the differing positions of the President and the Prime Minister had created a certain confusion in terms of the dialogue with Serbia.

The Kosovo government initially imposed a tariff of 10 per cent on Serbians goods on November 6, citing Serbia’s “negative behaviour” towards Kosovo’s statehood and its international campaign against Kosovo’s recognition.

The decision to sharply increase this to 100 per cent was made on November 21. The decision came one day after Kosovo failed to secure the support of two-thirds of Interpol’s 192 member states to join the international police organisation, which it credited to Serbian lobbying.

Kosovo has been accused of violating its membership of the CEFTA free-trade agreement. But the government has so far resisted international pressure to rescind the measure.