Albania-Kosovo and the growing ‘Balkan mini-Schengen’ clash

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 14, 2020 09:38

Story Highlights

  • The meeting between Kurti and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama lasted thirty minutes longer than what was expected, with Kurti trying to diplomatically avoid answering whether Pristina will send representatives to the initiative’s upcoming meeting.

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TIRANA, Feb. 11 - Incoming Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s first official visit to Tirana did not soothe the clash between Pristina and Tirana, but instead brought forward the neighbors’ growing disagreements concerning the ‘Balkan mini-Schengen,’ an initiative first proposed by Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia last year.  

Kosovo had not been a partisan to this idea so far, but after Kurti’s first meeting with heads of state in Tirana came the first direct criticisms of the government.

The meeting between Kurti and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama lasted thirty minutes longer than what was expected, with Kurti trying to diplomatically avoid answering whether Pristina will send representatives to the initiative’s upcoming meeting.  

"We only briefly touched upon this topic, as our meeting today primarily concerned the Albanian 'macro Schengen,' rather than the 'Balkan mini Schengen’,” Kurti said.

Rama however, on his part, said there was no reason not to support the idea.  

“At this point, there is a discussion to put forward. I believe there is no Albanian ‘macro Schengen’ without a Balkan ‘mini Schengen.’ The Albanian macro-Schengen is closely linked to the regional Schengen, because if we are consistent with the Berlin process and harmonized in our interaction, then we can open a path that has been closed for many years, to have a common space between two states, free movement between us, not only of goods and capital, but also of people, which until yesterday was unthinkable, not only because of the resistance and not only because of Serbia,” Rama said, adding that “it is today in our hands only because I have broken this resistance and it is up to us to do our best and not waste time, but to move this process forward, since no one, neither Serbia nor other countries, can say that we are making Albania great, if we completely remove the border.”

The two PMs reportedly agreed in the meantime to "move at a new pace towards cooperation in all areas" and at the end of March to organize a joint meeting between the two governments.  

“I want in this third decade of the 21st century to have a strong start of cooperation, as never before between the two countries,” Kurti said.  

During his visit he also met with Parliament Speaker Gramoz Ruci and the head of the resigned opposition’s Democratic Party Lulzim Basha.  

The two countries have so far signed 77 cooperation agreements, but most remain on paper. For this reason, the two PMs have agreed to set up a joint interstate commission "to monitor the progress of the agreements, identify problems in their implementation, and address the meeting of governments on both achievement and other decisions,” explained Rama.

Kosovo’s official stand towards the ‘Balkan mini-Schengen’ since the proposal’s beginning was that it cannot take part in an initiative while Serbia still hasn’t recognized its independence and is actively looking to lobby against its integration into international organizations, and that the country’s vision is focused on NATO and the EU.  

Meanwhile, political science experts and researchers have also backed the Kosovo stand regarding this issue.

“If Serbia recognizes the Kosovo passport, the Balkan Schengen is a substantial step to be implemented. This is one way for Kosovo to join the proposed Schengen. Schengen, as implemented in the European Union, is an idealistic world too long to be true and utopian in the Balkans. Consider, for example, a Kosovo citizen ascending to Rinas, crossing the Kukes border into Kosovo and then crossing all of Serbia to reach the Hungarian border.It is a beautiful idea but it will take some time. For example, if Serbia decides to recognize Kosovo passports or ID cards without recognizing Kosovo, as some EU member states have recognized its passport without recognizing its statehood, Kosovo should join the Balkan Schengen. This is a way for Kosovo to join the initiative but also for the Schengen idea to come to fruition because if one state does not recognize another's passports how will the free flow of citizens in this new Schengen area be realized?,” Albert Rakipi, Chairman of the Albanian Institute for International Studies said.  

Regarding Rama’s statement that there can’t be a macro-Schengen without a Balkan mini-Schengen, Rakipi said that it is wrong to condition relations with Kosovo on the premises of the Balkan mini-Schengen.

“No European power, neither the EU nor the US, opposes the Albanian macro-schengen if this macro-scheme is understood as an interstate relationship between the two independent states, Albania and Kosovo,” Rakipi said.  

Other regional countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro also doubted the purpose of an initiative such as the Balkan mini-Schengen in the context of a number of EU accession related mechanisms aiming at the same end-goals Rama and his counterparts are looking at. Nonetheless, Montenegro participated in the last meeting, which took place in Albania by the end of December.  

However, the discrepancies between Albania and Kosovo have not been limited only to the Balkan mini-Schengen, which ultimately aims to facilitate the free movement of goods and people among the Western Balkan countries that will support the initiative.  

In mid-January, Rama filed a defamation lawsuit against outgoing Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, alleging he has defamed him and seeking compensation of the damage caused to his image.  

Rama’s lawsuit, which the ‘Oath of Justice’ claims to have seen and which has over 30 pages, reads “On 17.10.2019 and 29.10.2019, the respondent Ramush Haradinaj, at the time of making the statement, Acting Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo, in an interview given to journalist Artur Zheji published in the 360 ”‹”‹degree program on 17.10.2019 as well as in the interview conducted on 29.10.2019 in the TV program Pressing Zone published on television “T7”³ of the Republic of Kosovo has made a public statement of defamatory and deceptive facts in the address of the claimant as a consequence of the violation of the honor, personality, reputation and dignity of the claimant with the consequences provided for in the applicable legislation.”

The indictment alleges that the statements were made in the context of debates about the dialogue process between Kosovo and Serbia and that, in principle, the indictment would have to result in a mutually binding agreement and mutual recognition between these two states.

“This issue has dominated the public debate since late 2018 and 2019, resulting in allegations of ‘treason’, each time against persons alleged to have supported the idea of ”‹”‹so-called ‘exchange of territories’ during this dialogue process. between Kosovo and Serbia,” it is quoted in the text of the lawsuit.

In response, Haradinaj said that Rama’s lawsuit is completely unfounded and used to create political diversion in order to avoid taking responsibility towards his actions.

Relations between the two PMs deteriorated last spring after a Berlin meeting on April 30 hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron gathering Western Balkan leaders to discuss their European future, external influences in the region, but at the heart of the discussion was the issue of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

After that meeting, Haradinaj said he had faced pressure from Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and Prime Minister Edi Rama to suspend tariffs on Serbian goods imposed in November 2018, leading to the suspension of talks with Serbia.

On his part, Rama said at the time that he had not pressured Haradinaj to lift the tariffs but had suggested he listen to Merkel and Macron, who asked Haradinaj to suspend the tax temporarily, for six months or even four months, pledging to enter the Kosovo-Serbia reconciliation process themselves.


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 14, 2020 09:38