February 3, 2016
Guest blog post by Andrea Lorenzo Capussela, author of State-Building in Kosovo: Democracy, Corruption and the EU in the Balkans.
Kosovo’s authorities have illegally arrested one third of the parliamentary opposition, including its main leader. The European Parliament expresses concern, but refuses to condemn the arrests. In their desire to assist Kosovo, now in a serious crisis, MEPs seem unwilling to acknowledge how deep its problems are.
Two months ago Kosovo’s authorities arrested thirteen of the thirty-one opposition MPs, and detained most of them for one month. One is the main opposition leader. Although the arrests are illegal, as I argued here on 15 December 2015, a draft European Parliament resolution on Kosovo did not even mention them.
MEPs sitting in the foreign affairs committee subsequently tabled amendments to the draft. Two did raise the question of the legality of the arrests, as I noted here on 20 January. But other flaws of the draft were left largely untouched.
In essence, that text seemed oblivious of Kosovo’s deep, systemic problems, and suggested remedies, like the adoption of laws or strategies, which are intrinsically ineffective in the country’s distorted and gravely inefficient governance system. In some passages, the text even appeared to confuse the interests of Kosovo with those of its élite, which has built that governance system and benefits from it.
On 28 January the committee discussed the amendments and adopted a revised text. The parliament is expected to approve it on 4 February. Although the revisions have improved the text considerably, it remains timid and weak: out of an apparent form of reticence, the roots of the Kosovo’s problems are left undisturbed. To illustrate this I shall look at how the passages I had criticised in the earlier articles have been revised.
I should add that in analysing the resolution I benefited also from the accurate and timely explanations, which the office of MEP Ulrike Lunacek – rapporteur on Kosovo and author of the initial draft – has provided to me. Some are mentioned below.
On the arrests the revised text ‘notes with concern the events that led’ to them; ‘calls for an investigation into possible abuses of power connected’ with them; and ‘urges’ Kosovo’s parliament to ‘clarify the rules concerning the lifting of the immunity of its members’. This is good. But another amendment proposed to add that under Kosovo’s constitution ‘parliamentarians cannot be arrested without parliament’s consent’ (whose absence is the main reason why the arrests are illegal).
This statement is purely factual; it is accurate; and, by implication, it would have qualified the arrests as illegal. Why haven’t MEPs approved it? Do they not believe that Kosovo’s parliamentarians have immunity from arrest? If so, why did they ‘urge’ Kosovo’s MPs to ‘clarify’ the rules governing the lifting of that immunity? But if the immunity exists it has been violated.
The separation of powers and the political and moral liberty of parliament are both weak in Kosovo. One reason is that MPs are exposed to the threat of being arrested by a judiciary, which is so subservient to the political élite that it even acts in ‘anticipatory obedience’ to its wishes (I quote a European Court of Auditors 2012 report). The European Parliament’s refusal to condemn those arrests, even by implication, can only make that threat more serious.
I turn to a motorway, which cost 25% of GDP and 2.5 times more than any reasonable estimate of its fair construction price. These numbers (better illustrated in this article) imply that Kosovo literally threw away – in the form of an above-market price – a sum of public money amounting to 15% of GDP. The remaining 10% was spent on an object, the motorway, which is well built but largely unnecessary (predictably, traffic is very low). Corruption is a plausible, if unproven, explanation for these extravagancies – cruel ones, in such a poor country. Yet the initial draft, equally extravagantly, ‘welcomed’ the construction of that highway, as part of a wider improvement of the transport infrastructure.
The revised text merely ‘notes’ that improvement. And it ‘regrets’ the ‘high’ construction costs (but this expression of displeasure is not explicitly addressed at the motorway, and can easily be read as referring to the whole transport infrastructure programme). Is this commensurate to those extravagancies? Are MEPs aware of another country in our continent that threw 15% of GDP away in one go? Why did they not openly criticise that indefensible motorway?
Finally, the original text responded to UNESCO’s refusal to accept Kosovo among its members by explaining why it should have been admitted instead, while omitting that Kosovo’s bid was weak. The text ‘welcom[ed] that several Serb religious and cultural heritage sites regrettably destroyed in 2004 have been renovated with Kosovo tax payers’ money, like the orthodox Cathedral’ (one of such sites, a medieval church burnt during the 2004 anti-Serb riots, was and still is under UNESCO protection). I objected that the money was manly from the EU, and that, as the reconstruction works largely stopped after the grants ran out in 2010–11 (the cathedral was reopened in 2009), it seemed odd to welcome them in the annual resolution covering 2015.
MEP Lunacek’s office informed me that the cathedral was indeed reopened in 2009; that the €9 million renovation programme, funded mostly by the EU, stopped in 2010; and that €3 million are needed to complete it. Now, in Kosovo yearly public expenditure lately exceeds €1.5 billion, excluding donors’ grants: the cost of the remaining renovation works represents 0.2% of that. So, each year since 2010 Kosovo’s authorities have chosen not to finance those works. A legitimate choice, arguably, in a country with such levels of poverty: but it helps to explain why Kosovo’s UNESCO bid has failed.
And yet the revised text still welcomes the 2009–10 renovations and the reopening of the cathedral, even though it no longer says who paid for them and calls for them to continue.
To conclude, the rationale behind this resolution seems to be the conviction that exposing Kosovo’s governance problems would damage its image, and thus delay both its recognition – five EU member states don’t recognize it as an independent state – and its progress towards EU membership. I share these concerns. But glossing over Kosovo’s problems delays both their solution and the achievement of those objectives.
And supporting Kosovo’s élite – by refusing to criticise its illegal arrests, robberies, and gauche campaigns, and by failing to carefully scrutinize its self-serving input for the text of the resolution – can only deepen the country’s problems. The paradox is that this happens precisely when Kosovo is witnessing a serious and occasionally violent political crisis, which threatens to degenerate. For the root cause of the crisis is systemic corruption, which stifles development, undermines the institutions, and erodes citizens’ trust in them: that’s why they take to the streets.
Andrea Lorenzo Capussela has also been published by EurActiv.com, you can read his opinion pieces on Kosovo here: