Expected Council Action
In April, the Council is expected to hold this year’s first regular briefing on the situation in Kosovo. The Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Zahir Tanin, will brief on recent developments and the latest report by the Secretary-General. In line with established practice, Serbia is likely to participate at a high level while Kosovo will probably be represented by its ambassador to the US.
Key Recent Developments
Following the resignation of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj in July 2019, Kosovo held general elections on 6 October. “Self-Determination”, a long-standing opposition party, came in first after winning 26 percent of the vote. The two major political parties, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), won 24 and 21 percent, respectively. The turnout, which stood at over 44 percent, was the highest ever recorded for a general election in Kosovo.
Almost four months after the elections, Self-Determination and the LDK reached an agreement on forming the new government. Albin Kurti, the leader of Self-Determination, became the prime minister on 3 February after he received support from 66 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament. The major opposition parties PDK, Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and Social Democratic Initiative did not participate in the vote. Ten members of parliament from the Serbian List (a political party representing the Serb minority in Kosovo) cast votes but abstained.
On 2 March, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and US Special Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Negotiations Richard Grenell hosted a meeting between Kosovar President Hashim Thaçi and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić at the White House. No specific agenda for the meeting was made public, but some media outlets have reported that the leaders were presented with versions of a draft final agreement on Kosovo. According to media reports, the final agreement would presumably include the potential for territorial adjustments, a possible mutual recognition, and UN membership for Kosovo.
There has been no progress in the EU-facilitated talks between Belgrade and Pristina. The dialogue has been at an impasse since November 2018 when Kosovo imposed 100 percent tariffs on Serbian imports. The EU and the US have continued to call for the tariffs to be revoked and for both parties to resume dialogue. Serbia has indicated that its participation in the dialogue is contingent on the removal of the tariffs.
The tariffs have become a contentious issue between the coalition partners in the current government of Kosovo. Kurti has proposed a gradual easing of tariffs while Isa Mustafa, the leader of the LDK, called for their immediate and complete removal. Kurti and Mustafa also clashed on the appropriate way for Kosovo to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On 18 March, Kurti dismissed Interior Minister Agim Veliu for openly supporting Thaçi’s suggestion that a state of emergency should be declared in light of the COVID-19 spread in Kosovo. Kurti has questioned the need for a state of emergency, citing a relatively low number of confirmed cases (20 at the time) and no deaths. Later the same day, Mustafa said he would seek a parliamentary vote of no confidence in Kurti’s government, which took place on 25 March. The motion of no confidence received support from 82 members of the parliament which brought down the government. The Constitution mandates that the new elections be held within 45 days after the dissolution of the government. Given the COVID-19 pandemic it remains uncertain when Kosovo will be able to hold new next elections. On 20 March, the government of Kosovo approved the decision to abolish the tariffs on import of raw materials from Serbia.
Key Issues and Options
The Council’s primary concern is to maintain stability in Kosovo. The Council will also monitor developments in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and efforts to reach a final agreement on Kosovo. Should there be a significant breakthrough on the diplomatic front, the Council could consider the possibility of adopting a formal outcome that would welcome this.
The EU has been the main facilitator of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, which resulted in the 2013 Brussels agreement on the normalisation of relations between the two. While there was progress in some areas, an issue for the Council remains the lack of implementation of the main aspects of the agreement (most notably the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities in northern Kosovo) and what role, if any, UNMIK might play in facilitating its implementation.
Some members of the Council, the P3 in particular, have questioned the UNMIK reporting cycle and called for downsizing the mission in light of the relative overall stability on the ground. In February 2019, the P3 and EU members of the Council prevailed in their months-long effort to reduce the frequency of meetings on Kosovo. According to the agreement, from this year on the Council will hold two briefings on Kosovo annually, unless the Council decides otherwise. The Council could request the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of UNMIK to consider the effectiveness of the mission.
Kosovo remains a low-intensity issue for the Council and is closely followed mainly by members with a specific interest in the region. This is due in part to the pre-eminence in Kosovo of regional organisations, including the EU, NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Nevertheless, deep divisions among permanent members have continued to characterise the Council’s consideration of Kosovo. France, the UK, and the US recognise Kosovo’s independence and tend to be supportive of its government; China and Russia do not recognise Kosovo’s independence and strongly support Serbia’s position.
The US has been the most vocal proponent of a drawdown and eventual withdrawal of UNMIK, citing the level of stability in Kosovo. The US has also asserted that the mission is overstaffed and over-resourced for its limited responsibilities and that these resources could be put to better use in more pressing situations on the Council’s agenda.
The issue of modifying UNMIK’s mandate and possible drawdown is likely to become more prominent in the upcoming period given the growing number of Council members supporting this position. Alone among missions regularly discussed by the Council, UNMIK’s mandate is open-ended. Any attempt to change it would require a new resolution, which Russia would strongly oppose and most likely block.
UN DOCUMENTS ON KOSOVO
|Security Council Resolution|
|10 June 1999S/RES/1244||This resolution authorised NATO to secure and enforce the withdrawal of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces from Kosovo and established UNMIK.|
|4 October 2019S/2019/797||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNMIK.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|31 October 2019S/PV.8655||This was a briefing on Kosovo.|
|7 February 2019S/2019/120||This was a note by the Council president (Equatorial Guinea) stating that the Council will hold briefings on Kosovo in June and October 2019 and that as of 2020, briefings will be held twice a year (in April and October).|