A diplomatic rift between the US and Europe has opened up in Kosovo over the ousting of the country’s government. The days preceding to the no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Wednesday and thereafter have revealed a divide in the foreign policy of the US and EU in the newest Balkan country.
After LDK, the junior coalition partner of Kurti’s LVV, initiated a motion of no confidence against their own government, people in Kosovo and EU diplomats became increasingly worried about consequences of such a move amidst the coronavirus epidemic.
The LDK claimed Kurti jeopardized Kosovo’s relations with the US, and did not comply with their coalition agreement when he fired a LDK minister, hence he had to go.
The EU and member states’ representatives in Kosovo moved in quickly in attempts to convince the LDK and other opposition parties to avoid ousting the government during the corona virus outbreak.
On Tuesday, a joint statement by all EU Missions in Kosovo called on political leaders to put all their energy towards fighting the pandemic and keeping Kosovo people safe. “This is not the time for political or institutional antagonisms, this is the time for political unity,” the statement read.
On the same day, embassies of France, Germany, Italy, UK and US also called for a focus on the crisis and for respecting the Constitution. It urged leaders to “preserve and ensure the integrity and functionality of Kosovo’s government and institutions at this critical moment.”
Then came another stronger joint statement by the German and French Ministries of Foreign Affairs. They warned that Kosovo needs a “stable and fully functional government” to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. “Therefore, we urge that the vote of no-confidence in the Government be reconsidered or postponed,” they explicitly demanded.
Both ministries praised Kurti’s plan to lift tariffs on Serbian imports, and invited Serbia to take similar steps. They promised that Chancellor Merkel and President Macron will host a summit after the pandemic on Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.
They underlined that Kosovo and Serbia cannot join the EU without signing an agreement, and that the “dispute between Serbia and Kosovo is a European security matter, therefore the European Union will continue to lead the facilitation efforts as soon as both parties agree to restart their talks. Coordination with our partners, in particular the United States, will be pursued.”
German minister for Europe Philip Roth also separately tweeted against the overthrow of the Kurti government.
Amidst growing pressure on LDK by the EU and its member states, US Ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett tweeted a brief message in support of the no-confidence vote, thus directly contradicting the German and French call for initiators to drop the motion.
His message was retweeted by Richard Grenell, the US Special Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo dialogue.
Grenell has been putting immense pressure on PM Kurti since he came to office to lift the tariff on Serbian goods, immediately and unconditionally.
Kurti’s plan included lifting the tariff in two steps within March, and expected Serbia to stop its campaign against Kosovo’s membership in international organizations and lift non-trade barriers. Otherwise, Kurti said he would put in place reciprocity measures, meaning that Kosovo would behave toward Serbia the same way Serbia behaves toward Kosovo, in all fields.
Grenell refused this outright, and increased the pressure for immediate and unconditional lifting of the tariff, which is a condition for Serbia to seat in dialogue. A US senator and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, suggested the need for withdrawal of US troops in Kosovo, and a US aid agency cancelled some aid to Kosovo.
Back to the US ambassador’s tweet, it was inundated with comments by people expressing concerns about the growing epidemic and supporting to keep the government in duty. Some commentators suggested Grenell had influenced the ambassador’s tweet, others claimed the ousting of Kurti mounted to a coup d’etat, some suggested the US was pushing to topple a legitimate government, while some supported the vote against the PM.
In fact, the LDK had clearly stated that the main motivation behind the no-confidence vote was Kurti’s refusal to follow the US administration’s demand on lifting the tariff. LDK leader Isa Mustafa had stated that Kurti had put at risk Kosovo’s relationship with the US.
The firing of the minister was just the trigger for a full-blown crisis that had been simmering since day one of the governing coalition.
Kurti fired the minister of interior after he publicly supported President Hashim Thaçi’s request for the parliament to impose a state of emergency due to coronavirus. The government had already opposed Thaçi’s proposal, and several days before it had declared a “state of public health emergency”. A “state of emergency” as requested by Thaçi would give the president more power over the situation.
The firing of the minister triggered the no-confidence vote. Kurti claimed it was an attempt to remove him in order to open the way for Thaçi and Vucic to sign an agreement that has already been prepared. According to him, it includes exchange of territories.
On Wednesday, the government was voted down in parliament.
The next day, three MPs from the German governing coalition called for a new government to form urgently, which could gain back the lost confidence of people.
They emphasized the reforms expected from the government, the demand for tariffs to be lifted and for Serbia to stop undermining Kosovo’s statehood. Regarding the dialogue, the stated that “only the EU offers […] a serious and responsible future perspective” for both countries.
Grenell has not made any comments on the ousting of Kurti.
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