In his interview for the Financial Times, Kosovo Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, says that there is a risk when it comes to the stability in the Balkans, warns Brussels that it must take Kosovo’s EU aspirations more seriously to avoid further instability in the Balkans and accuses Serbia of acting in Russia’s interest to destabilise the region.
Haradinaj also blamed Serbia, from which Kosovo declared independence in 2008, for a diplomatic offensive to undermine his country’s contested statehood.
“We believe Europe has given us a chance, a road map to become an EU member and we are thankful for that,” he said. But he added that EU leaders had not responded adequately to Pristina’s complaints about Belgrade. He went on to say that while the EU had invested funds and personnel to normalise Kosovo and the region, “all of Serbia’s actions are against EU interests to stabilise the western Balkans, and in the interests of Russia to keep the chaotic situation in our region”.
Haradinaj’s comments come at a time of heightened tension between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo’s parliament is set to vote on December 14th to create a regular army and uncertainty continues over a potential deal to engineer a partition of the country that would see it cede parts of its territory to Serbia.
Last month, Kosovo applied a 100 per cent tariff to goods from Serbia in retaliation for Belgrade’s refusal to endorse its membership of Interpol.
Haradinaj claimed the tariff would be removed only if Kosovo won full recognition of its independence from Serbia.
“We haven’t done this because of arrogance — we had no other choice,” he said. “We resisted taking this measure for a long time now but there was no other way out. The tax will be removed with full normalisation, and full normalisation means recognition,” he added.
More than 110 countries now recognise Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia, Russia, China and five EU members are among those that do not. In negotiations with its former province, Belgrade has insisted that any potential agreement would not include recognition of statehood.
Haradinaj claims that Serbia has been allowed to wage a hostile campaign against Kosovo and was undermining Kosovo’s chances of joining the EU while continuing its own accession process.
Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, has called for Pristina to revoke the tariff “immediately”, saying it is in contravention of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), to which all EU aspirants in the western Balkans are party.
Johannes Hahn, the EU enlargement commissioner, travelled to Belgrade and Pristina this month to try to mediate a compromise on the tariff issue, but that has not happened.
“We have complained [to the European Commission] all these years about Serbia not respecting the CEFTA, not respecting the Brussels agreements, not respecting other promises given at the table, but they were not so focused on us,” Haradinaj said, referring to agreements reached between Pristina and Belgrade since 2011 on issues left unresolved after the 1998-99 Kosovo war.
NATO bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to expel Serbian forces after a huge ethnic cleansing operation on the majority Albanian population, Haradinaj added.
The tariff on Serbian goods has boosted Haradinaj’s popularity in Kosovo given a more favourable standing in a dispute with the country’s president Hashim Thaci over a potential deal with Belgrade, which could involve Kosovo ceding some of its territory to Serbia in exchange for some degree of recognition and UN membership.
Haradinaj was quoted as saying that the idea of border changes or land swaps was a “danger for our region”. The plan has been endorsed by Hashim Thaci, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic and a number of European leaders.
“It makes no sense that we engage in this deal in exchange for Serbia to recognise what is a fact — that Kosovo exists. We are recognised by half of the UN members,” Haradinaj added.
Many observers doubt a deal is within reach given the increase in tensions. Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Wednesday that if Kosovo did form an army, a military response was “currently one of the options on the table”.
An overwhelming majority of Kosovars back the idea of joining the EU. But frustration about the fact that Kosovars cannot travel to Schengen countries without a visa has also caused a deep resentment. Kosovars had hoped the EU would approve visa-free travel before Romania assumes the EU presidency in January. During his visit to Pristina, Johannes Hahn said that it was “realistic” that visa liberalisation could begin in 2020.
(Blic, the Financial Times, 11.12.2018)
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