Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama visited Kosovo and met his counterpart, Albin Kurti, on 20 June to discuss relations between their two countries and further strengthen cooperation by signing 19 bilateral agreements.
It was the eighth official meeting between the two governments since Kosovo declared independence, having signed over 100 agreements during that time. Both governments, however, having been criticized for failing to implement the majority of them.
“Our bilateral relations are excellent and brotherly. Brothers do not have intermediaries between each other. Therefore, even this meeting is a meeting between Kosovo and Albania to strengthen our two states in the function of our citizens for their interest,” said Kurti during a joint press conference with Rama.
Joint meetings between Albania and Kosovo began as a biannual tradition in 2014. The two neighboring countries would sign agreements fostering economic cooperation among many other areas of inter-state relations such as education, defense, development, energy, border control, and more.
The goal of the cooperation was to “establish a more structured and institutionalized strategic partnership between our two countries,” thus marking a “new era of cooperation” between the two countries.
However, this meeting came around a time of tension between the two ethnically-bound Albanian states as the Open Balkan summit was held only two weeks earlier in Ohrid, North Macedonia. Rama kickstarted this initiative in 2019 to improve political and economic relations between states in the Balkans.
At the meeting, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, and North Macedonia were all present; however, Kosovo was not. Prime Minister Kurti refused the invitation to the meeting in Ohrid due to Serbia’s presence and rejection of Kosovo statehood while referring to Kosovo’s commitment to the Berlin Process instead, another Balkan initiative supported by Germany and the European Union.
“Kosovo remains the only country in the region outside Open Balkan,” said Kosovo analyst Donika Emini in an interview. “This is an indication that the region will continue to find different forms of cooperation – even without Kosovo.”
Yet during Kurt and Rama’s exchanges with the media on 20 June, Rama made efforts to affirm that the drama surrounding the Open Balkans should not be consider a threat to the relationship between Kosovo and Albania.
“It is true that the Open Balkans do not unite us, but it is equally true that the Open Balkans do not divide us. At this point, we have different points of view”, said Rama. “Everything that we live in the ‘Open Balkans,’ we will also live with Kosovo.”
Rama went further to claim that he is, however, “completely uninterested in getting involved” in Kosovo’s political affairs amidst criticism regarding his relations with Kurti and his government. Additionally, analysts and citizens have been questioning the Albanian Prime Minister’s friendliness towards his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vučić, which has caused another strain on the Albania-Kosovo relationship.
“If you were with us when we got together and saw the amount of laughs and irony that unite us, perhaps you would be surprised and would say that this is not Vucic’s brother, this is Kurti’s brother,” said Rama during the conference.
The unprecedented number of agreements, according to Kurti and Rama, speak for themselves, signify the strength of their unity that has come into question recently. But this approach has come into question recently.
For example, following their latest meeting, which took place in November 2021, only four of the 13 agreements have started being fully implemented, according to Kallxo. These recent agreements involve customs procedures, temporary residence permits, social security, and agricultural development. The removal of the border control was the main talking point, as there is now a joint border check between Kosovo and Albania.
With 19 new agreements signed on 20 June, it remains to be seen in the coming months whether the results will yield the same issue with the implementation or if the two states will pour in more resources and effort to assure their fulfillment.
First and foremost, on the topic of education, Albania and Kosovo students are free to attend any university of their choice in either country, and not constrained by any obstacles regarding curriculum, admission, and tuition.
“With this agreement, all restrictions between the admission of students to public higher education institutions of our two countries are removed. With this agreement, graduates from Kosovo and Albania will have equal access to 19 public universities, from Gjirokastra to Mitrovica,” said Kosovo Deputy Minister of Education Dukagjin Popovici.
In transportation, an idea regarding a railway line between Kosovo and Albania has floated through the government buildings for years. Under the newly signed agreements, a feasibility study will be conducted to precede the construction of the possible line between Prishtina and Durres, giving Kosovo access to the sea and better ability to both import and export products through the newly planned commercial port in Porto Romano. A ‘dry port’ will also be established in Prishtina as a part of this accord.
“The new Port of Durrës and the Dry Port of Pristina, a project which not only radically transforms the entire infrastructure of commercial relations between the countries, not only boosts the economy of the two countries like nothing else before but places Albania and Kosovo at the center of a regional gravity and turns Durrës into one of the most strategic economic gateways of the Mediterranean,” said Rama about the agreement.
Furthermore, a cooperation agreement was also signed to improve the roads in the villages surrounding the Albania-Kosovo border, following an assessment of its conditions, in addition to the implementation of joint border control and coverage of expenses regarding the construction of the joint border check at Morinë (AL) and Vërmicë (KS).
Developments in health and energy were also involved, as a memorandum of understanding was signed for the energy sector, in addition to a cooperation agreement to help develop the floating gas terminal in Vlora, a move set to diversify Albania’s electricity source and also provide gas to other countries such as Bulgaria.
Other key agreements involved creating a shared online tourism platform, financing the development of an Albanian encyclopedia, social security, civil status, and regulation of local border traffic.