Kosovo could soon face sanctions from the Euro-Atlantic community, multiple high-level and diplomatic sources told EURACTIV, while Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama cancelled his planned meeting with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Wednesday, citing the pending measures as one of the reasons.
EURACTIV was informed by a high-level third-country source last week that the EU and the US were preparing a number of sanctions against Kosovo. This was later bolstered by comments from Rama and other diplomatic sources who confirmed that sanctions were imminent.
The sanctions mentioned in an internal diplomatic note provided by the source include freezing EU funds, halting the visa liberalisation process, and membership processes for international institutions. It would also see Kosovo’s allies taking a passive attitude towards Serbia’s derecognition campaign, reorganising international military presence, and a serious reduction of the US contingent.
Individual sanctions against Kosovar leaders and high-level officials were also mentioned, but it is understood that these would be used in the worst-case scenario as possible sanctions would be rolled out in phases.
The source also called on the opposition to support the EU and US in their efforts to stabilise the situation and also to declare whether they support Kosovo’s obligations in ongoing EU-backed dialogue.
A second diplomatic source told EURACTIV that they were aware of a document laying down possible sanctions being circulated, and while they could not say if the document was officially signed off on, they were indeed the measures under discussion as of last Saturday.
Rama and Kurti were set to meet in Gjakova on Wednesday to discuss a number of bilateral agreements, with Rama cancelling the visit at the last moment. On Tuesday, he stated, “the meeting of the two Albania-Kosovo governments has been cancelled.”
He said he had requested a specific meeting with Kurti and the foreign and defence ministers to discuss the situation in the north, but the Kosovo premier did not agree to the new format. As a result and due to the “hourly worsening of Kosovo’s relations with the entire Euro-Atlantic community, this meeting cannot be held in the anticipated format.”
Rama continued that after speaking to EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell, Kosovo’s actions have “put its finger on the button that will set in motion the plan of sanctions against the state that created it.”
“I repeat, we are on the verge of putting the plan into motion because I don’t even want to talk about sanctions, but of austerity measures against a state,” he added.
On Tuesday, Radio Evropa Lire (REL) reported that EU sanctions were imminent, including the suspension of invitations for Kosovo’s participation in high-level events, bilateral visits from the EU and member states, and only holding meetings when they directly relate to the crisis in the north.
Other measures include ceasing sub-committee meetings between Kosovo and the EU, created based on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. REL also notes that EU funding for several projects under the Investment Fund for the Western Balkans would also be suspended.
Lastly, they reported the possible reduction of Kosovo’s public presence in events which government members are entitled to participate. A diplomatic source stated that engagement with Kosovo authorities would return to normal levels once Kosovo takes the steps the EU expects.
When asked by EURACTIV, the European Commission refused to comment, while a US diplomatic source referred to the recent comments made by US envoy Gabriel Escobar.
Escobar and his EU counterpart Miroslav Lajcak presented Kurti last week with a three-point proposal for overcoming the crisis in northern Kosovo, which includes de-escalating the situation, holding new elections in the north and returning to the dialogue to normalise relations.
When asked by journalists what refusal to follow the plan would mean, Escobar said, “If they do not accept, it means that they are leaving the Euro-Atlantic partnership unilaterally. I don’t know if there has been an answer from the government of Kosovo yet; I hope that the government will understand that we want to achieve a mutually beneficial result for both countries.”
Escobar added, “I want to make it clear that we don’t see this having an impact on a long-term relationship, but the action taken or not taken could have some consequences that could affect parts of the relationship. I don’t want to go there.”
As for the EU-mediated dialogue process, Escobar said, “If they turn their back to it, they will be turning their back to Europe.”
But the threat of further measures was also hinted at during the EU Political Community Summit in Moldova last week. The EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said that if the parties failed to de-escalate, “it will have consequences in our bilateral relations,” without elaborating.
EURACTIV understands this could include all options, from political to financial penalties, which are being discussed with member states.
The last point of the EU-brokered annexe to the deal indicates “any failure to honour their obligations from the Agreement, this Annex or the past Dialogue Agreements may have direct negative consequences for their respective EU accession processes and the financial aid they receive from the EU.”
Petrit Selimi, former foreign minister of Kosovo, told REL that at least three EU member states are considering freezing funds and visa liberalisation for Kosovo, and a REL source in Brussels confirmed that failure to fulfil obligations would “have consequences for Kosovo in the EU integration process and in the financial aspect.”
Tensions flared two weeks ago between the two neighbours after recently elected Albanian mayors entered municipal buildings in the Serb majority north. This came after Serb representatives resigned en masse from Kosovo institutions and refused to participate in the following elections after calls to boycott from Belgrade.
The situation escalated with Kosovo sending in special police units and protestors becoming violent, injuring at least 30 NATO peacekeeping troops, law enforcement officers, protestors, and a reported 20-plus attacks on journalists.
After Kosovo refused to back down on installing the mayors, sanctions were levied in the form of cancelling Kosovo’s participation in the Defender 2023 military exercise, ceasing assistance for Kosovo in gaining recognition from non-recognisers and helping to integrate into international organisations.
On Tuesday, Kurti announced in a press conference that he had presented Western allies with a five-point plan to de-escalate tensions. The announcement occurred as the security situation in the north deteriorated again due to the arrest of a Serb allegedly responsible for organising the attack on KFOR troops on 29 May.
Alice Taylor, Euroactiv