The tussle for primacy in Kosovo over control of foreign policy worsened on Monday, after Prime Minister Kurti refused to attend a meeting called by President Thaci on “steps we will take in future”.
By Xhorxhina Bami/
The struggle between the President and Prime Minister of Kosovo over control of foreign and domestic policy widened on Monday after Prime Minister Albin Kurti at the last minute refused to attend a meeting summoned by President Hashim Thaci to discuss key policies. Thaci had invited in separate meetings all the Kosovo political leaders.
Kurti and Thaci have long been at variance, especially over the stalled EU-led dialogue with Serbia, with Thaci insisting strongly on the importance of sticking closely to US positions, and Kurti not wanting the presidents involved in the negotiations.
At a press conference, Thaci said he had wished to discuss the “current political momentum” in Kosovo, as well as the “steps we will take in the near future” following his recent meeting with Serbian President Alexander Vucic in the US in Washington.
Thaci said it was vital “to have a common stance on the vital issues of internal and external consolidation” for the sake of “transparency”.
Kurti attempted a similar initiative last week, however. At an event marking the 22nd anniversary of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, on Thursday, he called for unity on foreign policy, warning that “differences in foreign policy … undermine our territorial integrity, our strategic interests and our institutional integrity. When we don’t agree on internal politics, it is the leaders and the parties that suffer, but when we don’t agree on joint aspirations in foreign policy, the state suffers”.
Kurti has repeatedly criticised Thaci’s direct involvement in foreign policy, especially his handling of the stalled EU-led dialogue with Serbia. Despite declaring their readiness to meet and sort out their differences, they have significantly not met once since Kurti formed his fragile new coalition government.
When Thaci on March 4 asked for a special parliamentary session to inform MPs about his recent meetings in the White House, the new speaker, Vjosa Osmani, refused to let him do so, saying that requests to address the assembly “must be submitted a few days in advance”.
The battle between them has drawn in the US, whose special envoy has openly criticised the new Prime Minister for not going further on lifting a controversial tax on Serbian imports.
On March 4, after media reported that the US had warned Kurti that US assistance would be withdrawn unless he lifted the 100-per-cent tariff imposed on Serbian imports, his adviser, Erzen Vraniqi, denied this on Facebook – only to be contradicted by US envoy Richard Grenell.
“The United States … is committed to boosting economic development and strengthening security in the region,” Vraniqi wrote, adding that Kurti, US ambassador O’Brien and US envoy Grenell had agreed “to continue communication and cooperation”.
Grenell disputed this version of events the next day on Twitter. “We made clear to Kurti that his decision to keep the tariffs even partially in place were harming Kosovo’s economy – and that the US would not waste our assistance if Kosovo’s leadership kept harming its people this way,” Grenell wrote, referring to Kurti’s proposal to only partially and gradually lift the tariff.
Vraniqi then claimed that Grenell was “being misused” by Kurti’s political rivals and enemies in Kosovo – specifically “by those who lost the last elections and whose interests have now been undermined by the [new] government’s decisions, especially the dismissal of corrupt boards of some public enterprises”.
BIRN contacted Vraniqi about these claims but he did not respond by the time of publication.
The EU has been more supportive of Kurti than the US. Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell told Euractiv.hr news portal that Brussels remained committed to “supporting advance in the EU-facilitated Dialogue”, with a Special Representative for the Dialogue and the Western Balkans.
Local media outlet Gazeta Express said Germany and France would send a joint delegation to Kosovo next week, although the visit has not been officially confirmed in Berlin and Paris.
Kosovo imposed the 100-per-cent tariff on November 2018 in retaliation for Serbia’s perceived acts of hostility, and the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue has since stalled. While the new government has promised to partly lift the tariff, this has prompted differing views even within the ruling coalition, with some wanting the tariff lifted completely.