Europe's youngest state faces multiple challenges that threaten its viability as a state. From the EU to Serbia, Kosovo faces a perilous path ahead.
Kosovo has finally formed a government - but an odd one. It is one that exposes fundamental flaws that the country — which has yet to complete its first decade of existence — has inherited from the day it declared its independence in February 2008.
This is owing mostly to the essentially weak Constitution that Kosovo representatives agreed on with their Western partners and partly because of subsequent decisions taken by Kosovo’s own leadership.
Three months after Kosovo citizens voted in the general election held on June 11, a new government was voted in by the Parliament last Saturday. Various coalitions and political parties, whose popularity was in “free fall”, seemed happy to have managed to overcome the difficulties they initially faced in forming a government.
The new government exposes how Kosovo came to be governed by a number of foreign proxies, some more problematic than others.
The first and perhaps the most problematic proxy exposed is Serbia.
Despite its formal declaration of independence, Kosovo’s government completely depends on Serbia. The word “completely” here is used deliberately, for if Serbia wishes to put an end to it, the new Kosovo government will unquestionably crumble.
This might come as a surprise for many readers of international law or politics that have debated Kosovo’s independence over the last several years. A short note on this deserves attention.
Kosovo’s Constitution did in fact give the Kosovo Serbs, which represent around 6 percent of the total population, veto rights - including vetoing changes to any letter of the Constitution, among other things.
The majority of Serbs in Kosovo, save for the minority that live in the north, understood that despite representing a tiny minority in the newly independent state, being able to block the entire country’s political life was not a bad deal after all.
They began to develop their own political parties, elect their own representatives, deliberate, negotiate, and participate in Kosovo’s institutional life quite independently from Belgrade.
Their partnership in governance with the majority Albanians was in full swing – until, that is, the EU-sponsored Brussels negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia in March 2011, that produced what many in the EU called a “breakthrough agreement” on April 2013 between the two parties.
Quite ambiguous in itself – ambiguity being a word which many interlocutors in the EU are proud to say is their strength, where parties are (almost) free to interpret their gains or losses as they wish – the April 2013 Brussels Agreement gave way to the creation of a new political entity in Kosovo: the Serb List.
The list was created by Belgrade and registered in Kosovo immediately after the agreement was brokered. The Serb List was a political party set to compete in Kosovo’s 2014 elections, and kill off any local and authentic Kosovo Serb political party which had already been integrated in Kosovo - and remained out of Serbia’s reach.
The Serb list accomplished its goal. Of the 10 guaranteed seats for Serbs in the Kosovo Parliament, 9 were taken up by the Serb List in the June 2017 elections. In a matter of months, the EU’s “breakthrough agreement” managed to transform the right of Kosovo Serbs, to the rights of Serbia to veto Kosovo’s political life.
While this was evident to some critical thinkers that closely read the April 2013 Brussels Agreement and the immediate events that followed, the recent Kosovo elections have made it clearly evident now, even for the most negligent observer.
When the nominee for Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, presented his government program during Saturday's parliamentary session, and asked MPs to vote for his government, they could not, and the parliament went on a break lasting several hours.
Meanwhile, the representatives of the Serb List who were in Belgrade on the same day, were there to consult with Serbia’s government on the vote. They had yet to return to Kosovo at the time the session of the Parliament was being held.
To cut a long story short, the government of Ramush Haradinaj was voted on only when the “Serbian delegation” from the Serb List arrived from Belgrade to communicate to Ramush Haradinaj that Serbia had granted them rights to vote on him for prime minister – a few hours later.
Of the 120 parliamentary seats in Kosovo, the government managed to win the narrowest of confirmations with 61 of the votes. With 9 of the votes directly by Serbia, establishing the latter as a direct proxy in the current government.
The situation for the new Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and for Kosovo as a whole is quite a travesty. This is because in his recent trip to France, Haradinaj was arrested by French authorities on a warrant issued by Serbia through Interpol.
France eventually released Haradinaj and did not extradite him to Serbia on the latter’s request. But immediately after giving the Serb List the right to vote Haradinaj into power, Serbia announced that they were not going to withdraw their arrest warrant for Haradinaj which remains on the Interpol database.
On the request of the EU and US, Kosovo will continue negotiating “open issues” with Serbia. The balance in these negotiations is quite clear.
The new government includes other proxies, though perhaps less problematic ones. The new government of a tiny country of 1.8 million people now has 21 ministries and 5 deputy prime ministers. Haradinaj’s party, AAK (Alliance for the Future of Kosovo) will have only two, giving Haradinaj direct and effective control over less than 10 percent of his cabinet.
The other 19 ministries are effectively controlled through the odd number of 5 deputy prime ministers, each coming from the political parties that agreed to vote Haradinaj’s government.
With three ministries assigned, even Serbia’s proxy, the Serb List, has more ministries under their direct control than the prime minister's own party. With Haradinaj unable to control 90 percent of his cabinet in addition to his wafer-thin majority, his government’s survival is virtually dependent on every single vote.
This means that even if a single MP who supported the government is on a business trip or on a lunch meeting outside the capital Prishtina, Haradinaj’s cabinet will not be able to push much through in parliament.
Currently the opposition is quite solid with only two political parties, namely VV (the Self-Determination Movement) and LDK (Democratic League of Kosovo) who have the remaining seats in parliament. It is expected that both these parties will be merciless in opposition. VV has generally been extremely critical of the post-liberation settlement, and especially the post-independence period.
VV aims for full internal and external self-determination, which Kosovo does not enjoy at the moment. The LDK carries a grudge after being unexpectedly voted out of the government in May 2017 by one of the new government’s main coalition partners, the PDK (Democratic Party of Kosovo).
These will be the driving factors, especially in the beginning, given that Kosovo has already scheduled local elections in October 2017.
It seems that Haradinaj’s new government will be a perfect punching bag for many parties. On the one hand, the internal and external proxies who will extract heavy concessions regarding their narrow concerns, and the opposition who will use the weak foundations of the government for future leverage.
This will be the case for both, the upcoming local elections, and the future general elections – which may come sooner rather than later.