Political Standoff Over International Agreements in Kosovo Parliament

Voting on international agreements in the Kosovo Parliament has been blocked for some months now, and has been conditioned by opposition with the dissolution of the Parliament and holding of new elections, while the government remained unresponsive to those inquiries until the approval of the agreements.

For quite some time, the Kosovar executive made efforts—unsuccessfully—to secure a vote in favour of several international agreements in the Parliament, including investments worth over 300 million euros.

Kurti’s Government has a majority in the Parliament to pass laws by a simple majority, as it leads a cabinet supported by 64 deputies, including the multi-ethnic group. However, the ratification of international agreements requires two-thirds of the votes [80] from deputies, which the government has found challenging to collect for some time now. 

In the absence of a quorum, and according to parliamentary procedures, voting for these agreements has been postponed to future sessions—a pattern that has been repeated for months.

Although the Speaker of the Parliament, Glauk Konjufca, presents agreements in favour of voting during sessions, the majority of opposition deputies either leave the chamber or refuse to participate in the voting.

The Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, conditioned their votes with the announcement of new elections and the dissolution of the current Asselmy. Meanwhile, the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, stated that it will support the agreements, except one—the Financial Agreement with the OPEC Development Fund.

In response, the executive has decided not to respond to parliamentary inquiries until the agreements are voted.

Political observers have criticised both sides, emphasising that the opposition’s decision not to vote negatively affects the citizens’ demands, while the executive, in their view, has a legal obligation to answer the deputies’ questions.

University professor Arben Fetoshi believes there are plenty of other actions the opposition can take in the political fight against the government. He also finds the government’s response to be absurd and irrational.

On the other hand, researcher Arbër Thaçi at the Kosovo Democratic Institute, KDI, states that although not voting on international agreements may be seen as irresponsible, the voting on them should not be considered mandatory.

A Stalemate Between Government and Opposition

In the session of Thursday, around 20 items were on the agenda for discussion and voting, including four international agreements to be ratified, while two others are awaiting consideration. They eventually did not get voted.

“These agreements are important for the country and should not be held hostage to the stubborn stances of both the opposition and the government,” Fetoshi emphasised in a conversation with BIRN.

On the other hand, Thaçi, stated that the opposition’s stances on international agreements are not sufficiently justified, except for one agreement, the Social Assistance Agreement, which, according to Thaçi, LDK has provided an ideological explanation for. 

He added that in every other case, not voting on these bills represents a political stance based on their assessments. “From this perspective, as worrisome as not voting is, the lack of substantive justification for each of these agreements remains. Some of them would directly impact the lives of citizens. Therefore, this general preconceived refusal of all agreements should be criticised. Parties should be invited to provide ideological thoughts and explanations for the decisions they take regarding international agreements,” Thaçi told BIRN.

Fetoshi believes that the government’s decision not to respond to parliamentary inquiries challenges the oversight role of the Parliament, creating a blocking situation in the functioning of institutions. 

“While the opposition has the right to try to overthrow the government, and this is a natural commitment in a democracy, the government’s response seems absurd and irrational to me. The government’s decision not to respond to parliamentary inquiries challenges the oversight role of the Parliament, creating a blocking situation in the functioning of institutions, and such a deadlock only produces consequences for the citizens,” the professor emphasised.

Thaçi further explained that the executive should be criticised for the practice of not responding to deputies, which, according to Thaçi, is a fundamental violation of the role they carry. “Although not voting on international agreements represents irresponsibility, voting on them should not be understood as mandatory; while the executive has a legal obligation to answer the deputies’ questions,” he adds.

Furthermore, the university professor says that another issue weakening Kosovo’s position even further in international relations are the punitive measures from the European Union. 

“The situation we find ourselves in requires urgent reflection through concrete and preferably consensus-based actions to avoid even more threatening consequences. Coordination with allies to respond as quickly as possible to the crisis in the northern part of the country is, in my opinion, Kosovo’s most urgent issue,” Fetoshi declared to BIRN.

Heated Parliamentary Debates

The statement by the head of the Kosovar executive, Albin Kurti, during the session on October 6, has sparked discussions in the Kosovo Parliament. He conditioned the opposition, stating that if they want answers to parliamentary questions from him, they should vote for the international agreements that are being transferred from session to session.

“Because you are not voting for international agreements, all the deputies who ask questions will not receive my answer, even though I have it already prepared. We should be colleagues of the same state, and we are of the same state when it comes to protecting and representing the public and state interests,” he declared.

When asked by AAK MP Time Kadriaj, about the possible independence recognition by Greece, PM Kurti emphasised that during his time in opposition, his party only abstained from voting on three agreements. “Out of 377 international agreements that were voted on while I was in parliamentary opposition, only three of them were not voted for. 374 were voted for. Therefore, when you become deputies of the Parliament of the Republic of Kosovo, only then will I answer parliamentary questions because I ensure that it concerns the Parliament of the Republic of Kosovo. You cannot ask parliamentary questions of the prime minister and harm the state on the scale of 360 million euros from a dozen international agreements that you refuse to vote on,” Kurti stressed.

After the PM’s statement, PDK MP Ganimete Musliu stated that the government is turning into a circus. “The government is in a circus, as everything in this country has degenerated, and we have realised it. For a government to come and set conditions in the parliament, this is a dictatorship, but we will not allow a dictatorship to be established here,” said Deputy Musliu.

The head of PDK’s parliamentary group, Abelard Tahiri, indicated that his party’s stance is not to vote for any draft laws and asked that this legislature “ends.” “We invite you to sit down and discuss the election date, and as soon as we agree on when to hold the elections and dissolve this non-functional legislature, we agree that within that day we will pass all international agreements,” Tahiri said. “So, on the day we agree to dissolve this Parliament, within that day, we will pass all international agreements,” he added.

Although LDK declared that it will vote for international agreements except the one with OPEC, the head of LDK’s parliamentary group, Arben Gashi, emphasised that it is the government’s duty to create political consensus in the Parliament for issues considered to be of national interest or beyond the interest of governance. 

“In the functioning of parliamentarism, the primary functional duty is of the majority to create political consensus in the Parliament, so the government through the parliamentary group has the duty to create consensus for issues that are considered of national interest or beyond the interest of governance,” said Gashi. 

“So your accurate expression should be the government’s failure, as generalizing responsibility in the Parliament is inaccurate. The government has not managed to create consensus in the Parliament for any topic or issue on its own initiative in three years of governance,” he added.

Meanwhile, the head of AAK’s parliamentary group, Besnik Tahiri, stated that his party had voted for the international agreement on social reforms. He accused the Minister of Finance, Hekuran Murati, of not having sent any letters to the Parliament in five months since the agreement was voted on. 

“AAK is a political entity that voted for the international agreement on social reforms. Do you know that the Minister of Finance, for five months, since the agreement was voted on, has not sent a single letter to the Parliament? What will he do with social reforms? This minister is only concerned with the opposition, attacking it, and not with the work and the duty given to him by this Assembly and this people,” declared the AAK deputy.

 “As a parliamentary group, we will not stop, and we will not back down from PM Kurti, who, by not answering questions, is trying to deceive a nation. He can deceive his own voters, but not the people. AAK has voted for laws with 61 votes, let alone international agreements,” he emphasised.

EU Measures Against Kosovo

The Government of Kosovo was informed about the European Union’s imposed measures on June 28, which later came into effect at the beginning of July. These measures were put in place because, as stated by the EU, Kosovo did not meet the conditions set by the EU and the United States for de-escalating the situation in northern Kosovo. Tensions in this predominantly Serbian-inhabited area escalated at the end of May.

The punitive measures include the temporary suspension of the work of bodies established under the Stabilization and Association Agreement, Kosovo’s exclusion from high-level meetings, and the suspension of bilateral visits, except those focused on addressing the crisis in northern Kosovo within the framework of the EU-facilitated dialogue.

The measures also include the freezing of funding for Kosovo from IPA 2024 [Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance]. Kosovo’s proposals within the framework of the Western Balkans Investment Framework were not submitted for review by the board on June 29 and 30.

Tensions in northern Kosovo increased in May when newly elected Albanian leaders, elected in April in elections boycotted by local Serbs, entered municipal buildings with the assistance of the Kosovo Police.

The international community has repeatedly called on Kosovo and Serbia to reduce tensions and hold new elections in the four northern municipalities.

Meanwhile, in recent days, Kosovo’s institutions, regional leaders, and MEPs have increased pressure on the European Union to implement punitive measures against Serbia following the terrorist attack on September 24 in Banjska, Zvečan.

Without specifying details, the EU has stated that it is waiting for a full investigation of the event to determine the next steps.

The Government of Kosovo says that since September 24, they have continuously published evidence proving the involvement of the Serbian state in the terrorist attack.

A few days ago, President Vjosa Osmani refused to hold a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić in Granada, Spain, before sanctions were imposed on Serbia.

“There is no reason to meet before sanctions are imposed on Vucic; sanctions first, and then we can talk about other matters,” President Osmani had said.

Despite BIRN’s interest, the EU did not provide details on whether measures against Serbia have been prepared and when they will be made public.

EU Spokesperson Peter Stano said they are awaiting a full investigation of the September 24 event in Banjska to determine the next steps concerning the parties, and added that they expect Serbia’s full and unconditional cooperation in the investigation of the terrorist attack.

On the other hand, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic dismissed Kosovo’s accusations that it was behind the attack, which the Kosovar authorities described as an “attempt to annex northern Kosovo.”

Agreements That Are Pending

In the session of October 5, 2023, PM of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, listed the agreements that are pending and have been holding up over 300 million euros in investments:

The Financial Agreement with the OPEC Development Fund, valued at 40 million dollars, has been awaiting ratification in the Parliament since November 25, 2022.

The Agreement for the Solar4Kosovo Project with BERZh, valued at 23.2 million euros, part of which includes 54.1 million euros in grants for expanding the capacity of the Thermo Power Plant, has been awaiting ratification in the Parliament since March 23, 2023.

The Agreement for the KOSTT Project with the German KfW, worth 25.5 million euros for the renovation of KOSTT’s sub-stations in areas and municipalities with power supply issues, has been awaiting ratification in the Parliament since March 23, 2023.

The Agreement for prisons with the Danish Government, which secures budgetary revenues of 150 million euros and a grant for investments in renewable energy of 27.5 million euros, totaling 177.5 million euros, has been awaiting ratification in the Parliament since June 9, 2023.

The Agreement for Railway Line 10, Hani i Elezit-Leshak, with the European Investment Bank, valued at 38 million euros, has been awaiting ratification in the Parliament since July 14, 2023.

The Agreement for the agritourism promotion project with GIZ, valued at 10 million euros, has been awaiting ratification in the Parliament since August 11, 2023.

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