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Week in Review: Ambitious Plans and Even Bigger Problems

Much Ado About Nothing

European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Oliver Varhelyi. Photo: EPA-EFE/BORIS PEJOVIC

The EU’s new enlargement methodology has been pitched as reinvigorating the accession process, breathing new life and dynamism into it. Yet in the Balkans, it has received a cool and muted response. Many local officials and observers are sceptical, seeing it as just a way to repackage the same old enlargement process in a slightly different way.

In his comment for Balkan Insight, our editor Srecko Latal looks at the ins and outs of the new enlargement approach, but finds little to be excited about. In many ways, the new process could be even more complicated than the old one. Even worse, it primarily caters to the realities of building support for enlargement within the EU, rather than the real needs of the process itself. Time, argues Latal, for the EU to remind itself of why enlargement is good for Europe, not just the Western Balkans.

Read more: New EU Enlargement Strategy Leaves Balkans Unimpressed (February 10, 2020)

No Lack of Ambition

Newly elected prime minister of the Republic of Kosovo Albin Kurti (R) inspects the honor guard of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) during the handover ceremony in Pristina, Kosovo, 04 February 2020. Photo: EPA-EFE/VALDRIN XHEMAJ

Kosovo finally has a new government under the leadership of Albin Kurti and it shows no signs of lacking ambition and ideas about how to change Kosovo for the better. A long list of social and economic reforms are on the agenda, as well as fighting corruption and strengthening the rule of law.

All undoubtedly commendable goals with which few would take issue, but is the new government’s program realistic and achievable? Our analysis looks at the new government’s plans, as well as the hurdles it faces in implementing them. Not least, it also looks at the hurdles the government would rather avoid – but cannot – such as resuming talks with Serbia and what stance the Kurti government will adopt in negotiations.

Read more: Kurti’s Ambitious Promises Will Test Kosovo Govt’s Resolve (February 13, 2020)

Better Year Ahead?

Kosovo flag on the facade of the government building in Pristina. Photo: EPA-EFE/PETRIT PRENAJ

The new Kurti government may have set itself an ambitious agenda, thus risking unrealistically over-inflating public expectations, never a good idea in politics. Yet, as Visar Xhambazi writes in his comment for Balkan Insight, given what a bad year 2019 was for Kosovo, things can only get better in 2020.

Dubbed by former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj as the “year of the economy”, it was anything but, with Kosovo remaining one of the poorest corners of Europe. Pollution problems appeared to reach new heights, the dream of EU visa liberalization seemed more distant than ever, and instead of new recognitions of independence Kosovo faced ‘de-recognitions’. On a modestly bright note, the holding of elections passed successfully and the result generated hope in many quarters, suggesting that 2020 can, indeed, only get better.

Read more: Why 2019 was Year Kosovo will Want to Forget (February 13, 2020)

Radical Problems

The Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: BIRN

Bosnian citizens who left for Syria during the height of the country’s civil war to join various jihadi groups are slowly trickling back to the country. These include not just male fighters, but also often their families.

While the country has managed to get a grip on – and stem – the numbers of people leaving, the problem of radicalization remains. Aside from the challenge of dealing with radicalized individuals returning from foreign battlefields, the country still needs to adequately address the problem of how to prevent radicalization at home. The country’s existing Strategy for Prevention and Combatting Terrorism is due to expire this year, with a new one to be adopted. But as our analysis shows, the previous one did not receive enough resources to succeed. We look at some of the failings in combating the problems of radicalization and terrorism to date, as well as what can be done to avoid them in the future.

Read more: Prevention Remains Biggest Challenge to Bosnia’s Anti-Terrorism Strategy (February 7, 2020)

Gloves Off

Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Chicu in Moscow, Russia, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/DMITRY ASTAKHOV / SPUTNIK / GOVERNMENT PRESS SERVICE POOL / POOL

Following the fall of Maia Sandu’s pro-European government on November 12 and its replacement with a ‘technocratic’ government backed by the PSRM and PDM, the EU and US held their breath and gave the new government a short grace period to show its intentions.

Yet the first signs have not been encouraging and Washington and Brussels appear to have decided to take off their gloves and get tough with Chisinau. Unusually these days, both the EU and US seem to be in synch when to comes to demanding real reforms in return for concrete support for Moldova.

Read more: West Has Lost Patience With Moldova’s Pro-Russian Govt (February 11, 2020)

High Problems

Photo: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay

One problem which the new Kurti government will urgently need to tackle is that of the higher education system. Students in Kosovo claim that they have been led to enrol at colleges that they did not know were not accredited. Less than a month ago, the head of the Kosovo Accreditation Agency, KAA, was dismissed over ‘irregularities’.

Political meddling in higher education is nothing new in Kosovo, but the system has paid a high price for it. In late 2017, former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj fired the entire board of the KAA, again citing irregularities. This led to the KAA’s loss of membership in the European Quality Assurance Registry for Higher Education, EQAR. Even foreign diplomats do not seem immune to the temptation to meddle. We take a look at the problems facing higher education, and indeed the Kurti government.

Read more: Kosovo Faces Challenge to Resolve Battles over University Accreditation (February 12, 2020)

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