In uncharted territory: Between the EU and Kosovo

  • Marko Stojić (EUROPEUM)
  • 19.3.2018 15:04

After a series of crises, the EU seems to be finally ready to assume a more assertive role in the Western Balkans. There are three major challenges that hinder Serbian EU accession efforts: a lack of dedication of the ruling elite to meet political criteria, the issue of Kosovo’s status and Serbia’s close ties with Russia.

The issue of Kosovo has loomed large over the Serbian EU membership bid from the very beginning. In its 2015 Common position on Chapter 35 (‘Kosovo chapter’), the EU declared that the advancement of Serbian negotiations will be measured against its ‘continued engagement towards a visible and sustainable improvement in relations with Kosovo’. Although it stopped short of demanding the recognition of Kosovan independence – not least because five member states have not done so – the Strategy underlines that ‘a comprehensive, legally binding normalisation agreement is urgent and crucial so that Serbia and Kosovo can advance on their respective European paths’.



The EU has effectively pursued a policy of pushing Serbia toward a ‘crawling recognition’ of Kosovo, while formally affirming its neutral position over Kosovo’s status.

 

However, the EU has never specified what ‘comprehensive normalisation’ should actually entail. As David McAllister, EP Rapporteur for Serbia, himself admitted, this is ‘uncharted territory for all sides involved, including the EU’. Since the Union does not have a unified view on this issue, it has effectively pursued a policy of pushing Serbia toward a ‘crawling recognition’ of Kosovo, while formally affirming its neutral position over Kosovo’s status. Such approach has proved effective, albeit unsustainable in the long term.

The Serbian Progressive Party-led government – although maintaining a nationalist rhetoric domestically – has been cooperative as making concessions on this issue was not politically costly. Following the signing of the EU-brokered ‘Brussels Agreement’ with Kosovo in 2013, the government bounced the local Serbs into accepting Kosovan legal and political system. It dismantled the remaining state institutions in northern Kosovo, recognising the authority of Kosovo’s government over its whole territory. At the same time, the Association of Serb majority municipalities – provided by the Agreement and portrayed as the crucial achievement of the Serbian government – met strong opposition from the Kosovan counterparts and is yet to be established, leaving the local Serbs in limbo and its overall policy towards Kosovo fundamentally in tatters.


The only bargaining chip Serbia can use is the fact that, supported by Russia and China, it can prevent Kosovo from becoming a member of the United Nations.

 

Assessing that the return of the whole province is not achievable, Serbia appears now ready to reach a new ‘historic’ settlement with Kosovo. President Vučić repeatedly expressed his resolve to find ‘a difficult compromise’ since ‘Serb-Albanian relations must be resolved once and for all’. It is unlikely that he would go as far as to formally recognise Kosovo’s independence, not least because it would not go well with the public. Instead, the only bargaining chip Serbia can use is the fact that, supported by Russia and China, it can prevent Kosovo from becoming a member of the United Nations. ‘[Kosovo] joining the UN will never materialise, unless we reach some agreement, and that cannot be achieved if [...] Serbia loses everything and Albanians get everything’ Vučić frequently asserted. He seems, therefore, to be prepared to sign the normalization agreement and even accept Kosovo’s UN membership – thereby indirectly recognising its independence – if Serbia is granted compensation in return.



There are indications that Serbia would actually seek the partition of Kosovo.

 

There has been a great deal of speculation about what exactly Vučić aims to gain. While some argue that the establishment of the Association of Serb majority municipalities would suffice, there are indications that Serbia would actually seek the partition of Kosovo. Vučić himself has neither supported nor rejected this publicly. Yet, his closest allies have long been floating this idea. While Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin argued that ‘permanent and firm delimitation between Serbs and Albanians must be established in Kosovo’, Foreign affairs minister Ivica Dačić bluntly proposed that Serbia should end its claim to all of Kosovo and seek to regain control of the northern part of the breakaway province inhabited by the Serbs. Vučić, however, hinted at the possibility of holding a referendum on a (currently undisclosed) Kosovo deal since ‘the people will have to decide... whether they see their future in Europe, for which we will have to pay a costly price, or we can go on like this, at Europe’s tail’, indicating his preferred option. Although unable to round off its independence without Serbian consent, Kosovo has been vehemently opposed to the partition, backed by the US. It is also highly unlikely that the EU and its leading members would support such a move, not least because they fear that partition would have serious repercussions for the whole region and could potentially cause a new round of warfare. At the same time, the Union may welcome a pragmatic and creative solution to the long-standing dispute. Talking about the contents of a future agreement, Commissioner Hahn confirmed that the EU ‘has no solution prepared in advance’, but that instead ‘everything depends on the outcome of the dialogue’, adding that ‘the paper [the agreement] is completely empty’. This may offer a way out of the current deadlock and, for the first time since 1999, open a limited space for Serbia to advance its cause for Kosovo; it is improbable however that this will include any new territorial settlement.


Read individual chapters of the analysis on Serbian EU effortsKosovo's status and Serbia's close ties to Russia. The analysis was published by the EUROPEUM's Eastern Monitor.

Marko Stojić is Lecturer in the Department of International Relations and European Studies at Metropolitan University in Prague, Czech Republic. He holds a PhD in Contemporary European Studies from the University of Sussex. His research interests focus on the study of European integration, political parties in the Western Balkans and party-based Euroscepticism. He has published in Europe-Asia Studies, Czech Journal of Political Science and Perspectives on European Politics and Society.


About author: Marko Stojić (EUROPEUM)

Partners

Tento web používá k analýze návštěvnosti soubory cookie. Používáním tohoto webu s tím souhlasíte. Další informace