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Kosovo finally has a government. It needs to hit the ground running

Kosovo’s two biggest parties have reached a deal to create a new government, almost four months after the country held snap elections following the prime minister’s resignation and just a day before the deadline by which parliament must elect a new prime minister.

The two parties, Vetevendosje and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), concluded the deal on February 2, with the leader of Vetevendosje, Albin Kurti (pictured above), a former political prisoner, set to become Kosovo’s next prime minister.

“We have signed the deal,” Kurti said at a joint press conference with LDK leader Isa Mustafa. “We agreed to elect the new government in parliament tomorrow. We have agreed on everything and are sharing responsibilities within the new government,” he added.

Together, the two parties hold 77 of the 120 seats in Kosovo’s parliament.

“We believe it is a good deal that will enable changes that our country needs to make,” Mustafa said. “We want this government to be successful and to meet people’s expectations at last.”

Snap elections took place in October last year after Ramush Haradinaj stood down as prime minister following a summons from a court in The Hague for questioning over alleged war crimes. He has remained in office as caretaker PM.

Mr Kurti’s first task as prime minister will be to restart stalled talks with Serbia over the future relationship between the two countries. He has on a number of occasions over the past few months hinted at a new approach, centered not on territory but on the rights of citizens and the needs of communities.

He has also made it clear that once in office he will expect to lead negotiations with Serbia. Until now, the country’s president, Hashim Thaçi, has been Kosovo’s chief negotiator. Both Mr Thaçi and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić are believed to favour a deal that would involve exchanging predominantly ethnic Serb areas in northern Kosovo, such as Mitrovica, with areas of southern Serbia that are populated predominantly by ethnic Albanians, such as the Preševo Valley. The US and the European Union have tentatively given the nod to the idea, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel is firmly opposed.

Talks between the two countries all but came to halt late last year, partly as a result of Kosovo imposing high tariffs on Serbian imports. Mr Kurti’s new approach may offer a way out of the impasse.

Last week, a deal brokered by the US paved the way for the resumption of flights between the Kosovan capital Prishtina and the Serb capital Belgrade, a deal which “marks another step in our efforts to normalise relations between Kosovo and Serbia,” according to President Thaçi.

Around 90 per cent of Kosovo’s 1.8 million people are ethnic Albanians. The country declared independence from Belgrade in 2008, and is recognised by almost 100 countries – including 23 of 28 NATO members – but not Serbia, Russia and some EU members. Serbia has in recent years carried out a campaign of de-recognition, with some success.

There are domestic challenges facing the new government too.

While growth has been relatively strong, averaging 3.75 per cent from 2006 until 2019 and outperforming most of its neighbours, according to the World Bank it has not been sufficient to provide enough formal jobs, particularly for women and youth, or to significantly reduce the high rates of unemployment. The growth model relies heavily on remittances to fuel domestic consumption but has recently shifted to more investment- and export-driven growth.

“Kosovo’s young population needs to be equipped with the skills demanded by a modern economy and the most vulnerable of its citizens protected by well-targeted and effective social programmes,” says the bank.

Corruption also remains a problem, and both governance and the rule of law must be strengthened. Civil society is weak.

Vetevendosje and the LDK have already wasted three months haggling over cabinet posts. The new administration – which will at least enjoy a strong majority – needs to hit the ground running in order to make up for lost time.