Von der Leyen’s camaraderie with Avdullah Hoti: Supporting Kosovo in its EU integration

  • + They met on June the 25th, a day before von der Leyen’s meeting with the Serbian President.
  • + Hoti remarked that his country meets the EU visa liberalisation criteria.
  • + Von der Leyen focused the meeting on the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue.
Source: Von der Leyen’s Twitter account

Why is von der Leyen in camaraderie with Hoti?

Answer: One of her political priorities is a strategy toward the Western Balkans and achieve stability in the EU neighbourhood. 

A bilateral meeting between Ursula von der Leyen and Avdullah Hoti took place last 25th June in Brussels. The Kosovar Prime Minister, elected the 3rd of June, also met other EU representatives, such as the European Council President Charles Michel. 

It was von der Leyen’s first physical visit since the coronavirus crisis. A visit followed by the meeting with the Serbian Prime Minister the next day. 

After the discussion, von der Leyen showed her appreciation for the visit and her support in the construction of a European path for Kosovo. She also stated that the EU will help Kosovo in the recovery needed after the pandemic. 

On the other hand, Hoti’s speech was focused on the demand for visa liberalisation for Kosovar citizens, and highlighted the commitment of his government for good governance. His demand has had an echo in the EU Parliament, and 32 MEPs have signed a letter to Angela Merkel to put this matter on the agenda of the Council of the European Union. 

Ursula von der Leyen understands that she must maintain a good relationship with Western Balkans’ political leaders. The fact that she received her first visit from the Kosovar Prime Minister is a statement of intentions. The President of the Commission announced the visit of Avdullah and Vučić on Twitter, highlighting the need for reforms to advance the region’s recovery and the path towards the EU that both territories must take.

Both leaders defended their interests, and the meeting turned out to proceed amicably, with von der Leyen publicly committed to supporting Kosovo’s post-pandemic recovery. Hoti, for his part, looks forward to that support and to see the reward for his government’s efforts to achieve visa liberalisation

A meeting that temporarily coincided with the announcement that the Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague has filed war crimes charges against Thaçi – the current president of Kosovo – and Veseli, among other indictees. An announcement that has led to the cancellation of Hoti’s meeting at the White House, and which may have consequences for the relationship between Kosovo and the EU.

What does Avdullah Hoti want?

Answer: EU visa liberalisation for his citizens and political support for the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.

Avdullah Hoti became Prime Minister on the 3rd of June 2020 following a motion of no confidence against his predecessor, Albin Kurti. He was previously Finance Minister in his party, the LDK. The ideology he shares with his party is one of Kosovar nationalism and right-wing. Nevertheless, over time he has moderated into a liberal-conservative politician that has adopted pro-European policies. 

Why? To gradually gain ground in the recognition of its independence, Kosovo must behave as an independent state. To do this, it must maintain and strengthen ties with other political authorities, one of which is the European Union. 

However, this is not merely a question of political recognition. Hoti is also seeking financial support in rebuilding the Kosovar economy after the impact of the coronavirus on the territory. This is essential if Kosovo is to continue to develop economically. 

Returning to the political side, Mr Hoti hopes to achieve the liberalisation of the visa regime so that Kosovar citizens can travel within the Schengen area – a position that Thaçi has previously defended with French and German representatives. Both Kosovar leaders argue that Kosovo meets all the criteria for the European Union to decide in favour of such liberalisation. This is undoubtedly one of the most important international political issues for Kosovo and its leader. Indeed, it has been used as a condition for further dialogue with Serbia.

As a Kosovar nationalist, Hoti wants von der Leyen to give a boost to the visa liberalisation process. This would be a step forward in the recognition of Kosovo – it would enter the Schengen area as a territory – and a strengthening of the passport of its citizens. We have to bear in mind that this is a question for which the European Parliament has already shown its support, but that EU Members States have not developed yet.

What does Ursula von der Leyen want?

Answer: The stabilisation of Western Balkans and European influence on the region.

In her agenda for Europe, Ms von der Leyen had already highlighted the need to reaffirm the European perspective in the Western Balkans. This position is part of her great political objective at the international level: making Europe stronger in the world. 

Ursula von der Leyen, like her predecessor Claude Juncker, knows that the Balkan region is a source of soft-security threats to the European Union. Not only because of the ease with which organised crime can establish itself on the territory, but also because of the influence of other powers in the region. 

A strong Europe cannot be built when on its continent powers such as Russia, China and the US exercise greater influence than the European Union itself. Therefore, at the beginning of February, a new accession strategy was presented as a political project of the EU to end the silence that had characterized the previous years. 

Giving greater credibility to the Balkans’ path to the EU is a way of stabilising the territory and maintaining European political influence in the region. Moreover, von der Leyen wants the EU, as a major geopolitical actor, to play a leading role in the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue. 

In terms of diplomatic mediation between these two territories, von der Leyen is relegated to a secondary position. The European Council and its members are the fundamental players in the mediation of the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia. However, von der Leyen must make clear the European Commission’s interest in and concern for the region. 

Despite its interest in Kosovo’s relationship with the EU, the leading role must be shared with the United States. Both powers must coordinate to reach a solution that satisfies all parties in this matter. And the European Union is the one which will suffer the most in case of bad management of the dialogue – because of its proximity-.

What is von der Leyen doing?

Answer: Meeting Serbian and Kosovar leaders, building ties with both, and other European leaders are doing the same. 

Firstly, Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, has taken action. In mid-June, he nominated new Heads of EU delegations in the Western Balkans. For the delegation in Kosovo, the Czech Thomas Szunyog, an expert on security and the region, has been chosen. This will strengthen the EU’s role in the territory.

Also on 30th of January 2020, Borrell announced that the EU should start taking steps to liberalise Kosovo’s visas. It is since Kosovo meets all the requirements stipulated by the EU. 

As mentioned earlier, the European Commission proposed a new strategy towards the Western Balkans in early February. Such political momentum on the issue has brought it back into the spotlight. In addition to this boost given by von der Leyen and his colleagues, Merkel and Macron have taken the initiative to hold the Summit between Kosovo and Serbia in July in Paris. 

This is in addition to the European Commission’s recommendation to lift travel restrictions for Kosovo on 1 July. And finally, the meeting between Hoti and von der Leyen on 25 June. 

There is no doubt that von der Leyen is mobilising the resources at her disposal to make the EU’s presence in Kosovo credible and convincing. However, as previously mentioned, her capacity to act is constrained by her competencies. Von der Leyen has her Commission working to ensure that European influence is maintained in Kosovo.

Who is winning and what about you?

Answer: Good news for the EU stability as dialogue is being settled, and further integration of the region is expected, at least in the long term. 

The EU’s role in Kosovo and the Western Balkans region is key to the lives of all Europeans. It is a question of neighbourhood. The search for a democratic and human rights-consistent solution to the issue of Kosovo and Serbia is imperative. Otherwise, the destabilisation of the area could have disastrous consequences for both sides and the neighbouring territories. 

For those of us who live in European territory, this is an issue that affects us deeply. Not only the possibility of a violent scenario, or the interference of other powers in the politics of the region, but also the fact that Kosovo is taking steps forward on its way to the EU. Visa liberalisation for its citizens would mean the standardisation of their passport. Our friends in Kosovo could visit us without the need for bureaucratic and economic obstacles. 
The change, which will come, will be long-term. But we can look favourably on this proactive approach taken by von der Leyen. The future enlargement of the Balkan countries is a matter of time, and for that to happen, the solution between Pristina and Belgrade must have been found.

Claudia María Yáñez Sangil

Research and Analysis Intern