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news 18 Dec 17

Kosovo PM Faces Uphill Battle on Brussels Trip

Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj has promised big steps forward for Pristina before meetings in Brussels this week, such as visa liberalisation and a new Kosovo army, but observers say this is unrealistic.

Die Morina
BIRN
Pristina
The PM of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj | Photo: Kosovo PM's office

Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, has promised to deliver visa liberalisation and the establishment of a Kosovo army by March ahead of a series of informal meetings with other regional leaders in Brussels on Monday.

“There will be bilateral meetings between [EU foreign policy chief, Fredirca] Mogherini and each of the leaders, and bilateral meetings between the western Balkans’ leaders will also take place…informal meetings,” the head of Haradinaj's information office, Halil Matoshi, told BIRN.

Before leaving for Brussels, Haradinaj told public broadcaster RTK that Kosovo will enjoy visa-free European travel and be free to found a national army by March.

“I cannot say whether it will happen precisely in March or one month earlier,” Haradinaj said.

The European Commission would not give BIRN comment on this timeframe, but made clear the criteria Kosovo must fulfil to complete the visa liberalisation process.

“The Commission looks forward to the fulfilment of the outstanding benchmarks concerning a track record of convictions in high-level organised crime and corruption cases as well as ratification of the border agreement with Montenegro. This must be a continuous process,” the Commission said in a statement.

As for the formation of a Kosovo army, EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told BIRN that the EU is following the matter closely, but would not comment on Haradinaj’s deadline.

“The EU shares the views of NATO and the US on the matter.  This transformation should be done through an inclusive and multi-ethnic process thus ensuring all communities in Kosovo have an equal stake,” Kocijancic told BIRN.

Jehona Lushaku, a lecturer in Political Sciences at the University of Pristina, told BIRN that Haradinaj’s promise “seems unrealistic” and visa liberalisation would happen only if two remaining criteria are fulfilled: border demarcation and progress on fighting corruption.

“Kosovo needs to provide data on fighting corruption. The data should be the sentenced cases declared by the courts dealing with corruption,” Lushaku said.

She also said that considering the demarcation treaty does not have enough votes in parliament to ratify it, combined with end-of-year holidays and complicated procedures for the adoption of EU decisions, a March deadline can’t be seen as possible.

“The prime minister can declare that liberalisation will happen in March, only if he is sure that the criteria will be fulfilled in record time and if there are promises that the EU will pass the decision through an accelerated process,” Lushaku added.

Haradinaj is also one of the loudest opponents of the border agreement with Montenegro, claiming Kosovo would lose territory by ratifying it, so Pristina-based political analyst Behlul Beqaj said he cannot see any possible progress on the visa issue.

“The chances are too small for this government to start the process related to ratifying the demarcation agreement,” Beqaj told BIRN.

“Even if the prime minister agrees to ratify [the current version of] the demarcation, then the question is - why has this prime minister kept citizens stalled [without visa liberalisation] for two to three years? If the purpose was related to power, then what is this coalition capable of doing to remain in power?” he asked.

Beqaj said that none of the promises given by Kosovo's politicians regarding deadlines on visa liberalisation have been fulfilled.

“These politicians are not able to fulfil the promises that depend on them [alone], and the [promises involving] processes that depend on them even less,” he said.

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