What are the new Kosovo government’s biggest priorities?

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

File photo. The leader of the movement Self-determination (Vetevendoje) and candidate for the prime minister Albin Kurti (C-L) joined by his wife Rita Augestad Knudsen (C-R) attend the closing electoral rally in Pristina, Kosovo, 12 February 2021. [Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA/EFE]

Kosovo’s 2021 elections returned an unprecedented result and their aftermath could yet prove historic, writes Dren Doli who offers some advice to the new government.

Dren Doli is a Professor of Public International Law and International Organizations at the Faculty of Law of the University of Pristina, and is a co-founder and Senior Research Fellow at the Group for Legal and Political Studies, independent think tank based in Pristina, Kosovo.

Kosovo’s joint list of Levizja Vetvendosje and Lista Vjosa (LVV) managed to win 50% of votes in February’s parliamentary elections, and took 58 of 120 seats in the Assembly. But the people have made one thing clear before the Assembly’s vote for the new government, expected on 22 March: This is a vote for change.

Irrespective of the next government’s plans and priorities, the hopes of Kosovo’s citizens will not easily be balanced. However there is also a glimpse of hope for the projected cabinet, and Albin Kurti, nominee for prime minister, will be tasked with this balancing act.

Those who supported LVV and Kurti remain divided on what the biggest priorities of the next government should be. Some believe the fight against corruption and organized crime should be treated with the most urgency and are demanding clear and immediate results.

LVV’s most avid supporters do not share this view. For them the success of the next government depends on long-term results, with emphasis placed on efforts to eradicate unemployment and to restructure public administration, education, and the judiciary.

I can’t resist giving the new government a little advice.

First, historically government priorities in Kosovo were based on the assumption that they coincide with those of the republic. The new government should reverse this logic. It should recognize the differences between those priorities that highlight preoccupations of the governing coalition and those that highlight steps to overcome Kosovo’s current impasse.

The government must devise steps to ensure long-term and sustainable development even if it has to abandon its initial plans.

No Government has focused attention on supporting the specialization of businesses according to Kosovo’s comparative advantages.

At present, the strategy of intervention is: support whatever seems and is perceived rational. No sector is prioritized and considered highly strategic. Kosovo has no economic identity and no brand for that matter. Specialization of our economy is the only answer for sustainable development, the task of the new Government is to make that happen.

Third, the new Government needs to be both small and efficient, operating under extreme parameters of openness and transparency, and relying on platforms of e-government. This is the only alternative to stop inefficiency, increase accountability, and use the benefits of technology. Too many departments and offices with overlapping competences, overcrowded with unprofessional civil servants, have made Kosovo institutions unmanageable. The new Government should reset the entire administration and provide alternatives to those civil servants that are not qualified for new positions and that will be made redundant thanks to e-platforms. The logic of welfare employment needs to stop.

Forth, our cities are dying, while, the capital, Prishtina, and nearby areas, are congested.  Whoever has visited Kosovo agree that everything significant happens only in Prishtina.  The new Government cannot ignore the overcrowding of Prishtina and nearby areas as it cannot permit other regions to disappear. Consequently the new Government should prioritize the development of other regions.

Five, the Government needs to stop migration of youth and qualified professionals. As the data published by GLPS showed, 48.4% of respondents have a will to migrate, of those, 64.3% would consider permanent migration. These data are frightening, and any Government that refuses to consider their relevance is not apt for a marathon.

Six, primary and secondary education needs a reset. Except that it needs an unprecedented review of the qualifications of teaching staff, a continuous performance evaluation and training schemes, the re-dimensioning of the study curricula is a necessity. Higher education should not be exempted. The continuation of regional public universities should be seriously questioned, while a full audit and performance review of University of Prishtina staff and study programs should carefully be planned.

Seven, ideas that public companies need immediate investments by the Government are, simply, wrong.  Any investment or subsidy should be planed, as a fundamental change in the way how they operate should be implemented. Many alternatives to revive public companies are available, but in any move, the Government must retain the majority of shares.

Eight, Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue is a priority. Internally, its continuation, as well as its end, should not be blessed only by the Government and the President. A national unity team for the dialogue is a must. The Prime Minister must lead the dialogue, while the President, leaders of parliamentary political parties, and representatives from civil society should be members of the negotiating team. As to the content of the dialogue, principles about final solution cannot differ from what LVV, Mr. Kurti and Ms. Osmani have promised.

Nine, a vetting, encompassing the review of wealth and professional qualifications, that is able to determine whether judges, prosecutors, police and custom officers, tax administration and regulatory agencies, and  judges of constitutional court, are fit for the positions is of utmost importance. A permanent vetting mechanism ought to be planned as a step necessary to ensure that the benefits of the general vetting are not lost. Other symbolic steps can be implemented, but their impact in altering the endemic abuse of power is limited.

Finally, managing the new normal, ensuring access to COVID-19 vaccines and mitigating the economic impact of COVID is a task, not a plan. The first lesson that Mr. Kurti and Ms. Osmani will learn is that their legacy is not tested against the number of tasks they implement, but rather against the plan they set for the new Government.

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