Kurti’s government is diminishing the hopes for a proper foreign policy

14 shkurt 2023 11:22

Translated version.

During the first year of Kurti’s government, Kosovo did not have any breakthroughs in international affairs, failed to achieve any concrete outcomes and was subject to numerous scandals and protocol failures, revealing an urgent need for a new approach.

In the second year, the government requested NATO membership due to the new geopolitical reality caused by the war in Ukraine. Furthermore, Kosovo applied for membership in the Council of Europe in May and for EU membership in December 2022.

However, membership in these organizations remains a tough assignment considering the lack of progress on the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and the lack of recognition from the remaining five EU member states.

During the second year of the Kurti government, Kosovo did not gain any new state recognitions, no membership in international organizations, no visa liberalization, and most critically, Kosovo witnessed a deteriorating relationship with its key allies.

An unfit foreign minister

Kosovo’s foreign policy has been one of the weaker links of the Kurti government, if not the weakest.

Kosovo’s foreign minister, Donika Gervalla-Schwarz, has proved to be unfit to cope with the complexities required for a country looking for new state recognitions and membership in international organizations.

Gervalla’s most recent scandal is related to the bombing incident in Poland in November 2022, when rockets killed two civilians. On the eve of the incident, Poland and NATO member states refrained from making comments to confirm what happened and called for an emergency meeting.

However, Gervalla did not wait to comment on the issue and tweeted the following: “The EU has to act much more determined to stop Putin before he and his proxies bring war over the whole continent.”

Kosovo’s foreign minister jumped to conclusions without official confirmation of what occurred in Poland and indirectly called for a military confrontation against Russia.

A one-man show

To avoid further diplomatic gaffes, PM Kurti has essentially put Foreign Minister Gervalla on the sidelines and has taken the wheel to represent Kosovo’s interests abroad, running the show primarily by himself, and at times, having President Vjosa Osmani serve as a second-party validation.

Over the last couple of months, PM Kurti and President Osmani have appeared on prominent international media outlets to express their opinions about regional politics pertaining to the Balkans and international politics dealing with the war in Ukraine and Russian influence.

Amid Kosovo’s booming artistic and cultural scene, with many festivals taking place, such as Dokufest Film Festival and Manifesta Biennial, Kurti made the headlines of international media outlets stating that Kosovo is at risk of war with Serbia.

Kurti’s rhetoric is damaging the country’s already minimal progress and has proved dangerous not only for Kosovo’s image as a country but also for its bilateral relationship with key allies.


Kurti’s idiosyncratic behavior

In November 2022, the Kosovo government went on with its plan to finally replace illegal vehicle license plates in northern Kosovo with official Kosovo plates. In response, hundreds of Kosovo Serbs from the police, judiciary and other institutions quit their jobs.

Kurti had initially postponed the decision until November 21, but then later stated that he would implement it, despite numerous calls from the West to postpone it for a few more months.

On November 21, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, invited Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to Brussels to find a solution to the license plate issue. Following the all-day meeting, Borrell delivered a harsh statement on Kosovo.

“I will inform member states…about the behavior of different parties, and the lack of respect for international legal obligations, and I have to say this in particular for Kosovo. I know, this sends a very negative political signal,” said Borell.

Borrell further stated: “For the sake of transparency, I have to say we put forward a proposal that could have avoided this risky situation, which President Vucic accepted today, but Prime Minister Kurti did not.”

Following Borrell’s statement, Kurti accused Borrell of giving up on the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, whereas President Osmani went on to lecture Borell on Facebook on how to do his job.

The deal over license plates was finally reached after two days. Serbia agreed to stop issuing license plates with Kosovo city denominations, whereas Kosovo agreed to cease actions regarding re-registration. However, Kosovo’s relationship with its allies keeps deteriorating mainly due to Kurti’s clumsy clashes and his idiosyncratic behavior.

A deteriorated relationship with the key ally

For decades, Kosovo has relied on help and support from its staunch ally, the United States. However, since Kurti came to power, this relationship has dwindled. The Kurti government has denied such allegations claiming that the Kosovo-U.S. relationship remains solid.

However, a leaked report reveals a different picture. In the report, Ambassador Ilir Dugolli states that the treatment of the Kosovo Embassy from the host country [U.S.] is “brutal.”

Dugolli states that it has been impossible to arrange meetings on the state level. Furthermore, he says there have been attempts from Kosovo to improve the bilateral relationship with the U.S. and set an official framework for cooperation, but due to recent political developments [in Kosovo], the response from the U.S. administration “has been more negative than usual.”

This report should alarm the Kurti government. Kosovo cannot afford to deteriorate its relationship with the U.S., the country that can have the most significant impact in helping Kosovo achieve its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Kosovo’s foreign service involved in a financial scandal

The most severe diplomatic scandal in 2022 involved Kosovo’s ambassador to Croatia, Martin Berishaj, who was allegedly involved in a money laundering scandal in Slovenia.

Ambassador Berishaj was reported to have transferred about 600,000 euros from his company MB Consulting bank account in Montenegro to Slovenian politician Robert Golob, chairman of the Freedom Party. Furthermore, Berishaj didn’t declare in his property form (as is required by Kosovo law) that he is the owner of MB Consulting based in Montenegro.

Kosovo’s Anti-Corruption Agency submitted a criminal complaint against Ambassador Martin Berishaj in August 2022.

Ambassador Berishaj has denied the allegations and Minister Gervalla did not take any disciplinary measures, stating that she trusts the ambassador. Similarly, Prime Minister Kurti and President Osmani have shown undivided support for Ambassador Berishaj.

It remains unclear why the Kurti government has decided to fully support an ambassador dealing with serious accusations and threatening to damage Kosovo’s diplomatic efforts.

Lack of coordination among government officials

Around September 2022, news started circulating about a “Franco-German proposal” that would present a new framework for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The draft proposal was leaked by Euractiv two months later, but the document’s authenticity was never confirmed.

Initially, Kosovo’s First Deputy PM, Besnik Bislimi, stated that “the Franco-German proposal is closer to Serbia's position.”

PM Kurti, however, said the following at a press conference: “The Franco-German proposal is a step in the right direction.”

Such opposing statements by top officials from the Kosovo government highlight a serious lack of strategy and coordination in dealing with Kosovo’s national security.

Kosovo is in a difficult position internationally. Further progress to consolidate Kosovo’s international legitimacy is closely linked to a well-designed strategy in collaboration with allies and supporters.

Kosovo could do more to achieve progress on the international stage and strengthen its international legitimacy. The prerequisite is coordination among government officials and institutions, close cooperation with Kosovo’s key allies and supporters, and the appointment of a foreign minister who is qualified to do the job.

Illustrations by: Bigeye

14 shkurt 2023

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