There is room to democratize EU integration process in Kosovo

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Kosovars take part in a march to mark International Women's Day in Pristina, Kosovo, 8 March 2020. [Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA/EFE]

It is not surprising why Kosovo lags behind in the EU enlargement process, having in mind that many civic society actors were excluded from previous consultation processes, write Svjetlana Ramic Markovic and Agon Demjaha.

Svjetlana Ramic Markovic is MA International relations. Agon Demjaha is PhD Political sciences. The opinion article is part of the wider research supported by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society as part of the project “Building knowledge about Kosovo (3.0)”, whose findings will be published soon.

While the new European Commission (EC) led by President Ursula von der Leyen was marking its first 100 days of work, everyone was asking if the new Enlargement agenda that was presented last month will justify the expectations of the Western Balkan leaders.

To this date, Kosovo is together with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the youngest “candidate” on this road, while Montenegro and Serbia are negotiating accession to the Union, and Albania and North Macedonia are official candidates.

The poor and politically unstable Kosovo since its independence is focused on the European future and invests certain capacities in rebuilding its relationship with neighbors and establishing meaningful dialogue with the EU Commission.

Although five EU member states have still not recognized Kosovo’s independence, Kosovo has a clear European perspective, since the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between the EU entered into force.

However, specifics of most post-conflict countries are that the majority of the processes are self-centred, oriented towards capitals, leaving rural areas and its actors completely ignored in the important economic or social dialogue. Far away from a democracy that everyone is striving for.

In the case of Kosovo, “good” and “bad” politics are happening in Pristina and many local and regional talks are exclusive for many constituencies that are not la crème de la crème of Pristina’s society.

One of the biggest problems for previous Government was how to ensure participation and full inclusion of civil society in the EU integration process, having in mind that the role of the civil society is undoubtedly important for effective government.

It is not surprising why the process of EU enlargement is characterized as distanced, narrow and selective having in mind that many civic society actors were excluded from previous consultation processes.

According to the Kosovo Women’s Network that is representing the interest of more than 150 local organizations, there is a positive Legislative framework for CSOs participation but a very negative and disabling political environment.

Additionally, most of the consultations take place among English-speaking Pristina-located organisations and even some of the important documents are not translated into Albanian and Serbian.

“If you do not know when certain processes are happening or where to look for them you probably do not have an opportunity to become engaged in the process”, says Nicole Farnsworth, Program director of Kosovo Women’s Network.

In the opinion of one of the most recognized organizations in Kosovo, KIPRED (Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development), it is usually well-known and well-established CSOs that are providing inputs to these live consultations with the Government.

Unfortunately, non-based Pristina organizations are usually not invited to such meetings and are lacking capacities, resources, and overall understanding to participate fully in the consultation process.

The EU office in Kosovo is definitely playing the role of major mediator in establishing and maintaining the communication between Government and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).

EU office encourages Civil society to be open and obtain critical engagement with them. There are a number of support mechanisms in terms of enabling civil society to participate in the process. But a lot of the discussions are technical and broad and not in all areas we have established CSO’s that have capacities to engage”, explains Felix Rathje, a Policy Officer in the EU Office in Kosovo.

Kosovo is still facing many struggles to democratise the process of EU integration, and it seems like it has to put more effort, capacities and political will to empower citizens to take a more proactive role within the process.

Is the democratisation of the process achievable?

The new government of Kosovo, led by Albin Kurti, has to build a structural partnership with CSOs from urban and rural areas of Kosovo and especially uphold more local CSOs and citizens to take full participation in the process.

The relationship with the third sector actors has to be restored.

The new government will have to continue to strengthen ongoing consultation processes, as well as the online Platform that gives an opportunity for citizens to provide their contribution.

Openness and readiness of political institutions to involve CSOs in the dialogue with the EU and making the process more consistent, predictable and properly implemented, is another substantial challenge for the democratization of the process.

Moreover, there is a general misconception about the necessity of the presence of CSOs in the process, where active civic participation is rather a requirement for a strong political culture that actively and dynamically encourages positive changes in the political climate.

And that is definitely something that Kosovo has strived for since its independence.

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