Sunday

18th Feb 2018

EU downgrades Kosovo enlargement status

  • Pristina: Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, and Slovakia do not recognise Kosovo (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

The European Commission has downgraded Kosovo's enlargement status following a complaint from separatist-hit Spain

Its new Western Balkans policy, published on Tuesday (6 February), systematically scrubbed out all language from earlier drafts that had put Kosovo on an equal footing with nations such as Serbia and Montenegro in terms of their EU perspective.

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  • Kosovo and Serb leaders meeting in Brussels to 'normalise' relations (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

Tuesday's text spoke of a "historic window of opportunity" for "Western Balkan countries", while earlier drafts had spoken of an opportunity for "all six Western Balkan partners".

The drafts had said EU entry talks with Kosovo as well as Bosnia and others should be "well advanced" by 2025.

But Tuesday's text said Kosovo could "advance on its European path once objective circumstances allow", referring to the fact that Spain and four other EU members do not recognise its independence from Serbia.

The drafts had also said that if Serbia and Kosovo normalised relations, then it would be "a key element on both Serbia and Kosovo's EU path" and that this should happen "by the end of 2019 at the latest".

But Tuesday's paper said a Serbia-Kosovo deal would see them "advance on their respective European paths" and dropped the 2019 deadline.

It fudged the question of Kosovo's inclusion in EU ministerial meetings and summits with the other five Balkans aspirants.

The drafts had said they would "all" be welcome in a "Western Balkans 6 format", but the final policy document said only that "the Western Balkans" would attend such meetings.

The commission changes came after Spain objected to Kosovo's full inclusion in the strategy.

Spanish complaint

"The concept of 'WB6' [Western Balkans 6] does not fit the enlargement dynamic. Kosovo is not part of the enlargement process and has its own differentiated framework," Madrid said in an informal paper last week, in the wake of Spain's own separatist crisis in the Catalonia region.

Greece, which also does not recognise Kosovo, backed Spain.

Of the other EU non-recognisers, Slovakia backed the commission, while Cyprus and Romania declined to take a public position.

Writing in an op-ed in EUobserver last week, Bekim Collaku, the chief of staff of Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, warned it would spoil the atmosphere if the commission bowed to Spain.

"It can only add more tensions in the region if some of the countries are advanced while others are left behind," Collaku said.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said on Tuesday she still hoped the Serbia-Kosovo normalisation deal could be concluded by 2019.

She told press at the European Parliament in Strasbourg the new policy was meant to "anchor" the Western Balkans in their EU choice, despite the snub to Kosovo.

"It is clear today and that is [the] message - we will share a common future inside our European Union," Mogherini said, adding: "Let's bring the Western Balkans inside the European Union, not in a far away future, but in our generation."

Johannes Hahn, the EU enlargement commissioner, said the Western Balkans remained "very fragile, shaky" 20 years after the wars there ended.

But he said the EU enlargement process had helped to calm the region, using the example of a recent murder in Kosovo.

Hahn said the killing of Oliver Ivanovic, an ethnic Serb politician, in northern Kosovo in January would normally have triggered further violence, but that Serb and Kosovo leaders had instead phoned each other and urged public restraint.

EU weight

He also said the EU should be less fearful of competition for influence by Russia and China.

The vast majority of Western Balkans trade and foreign investment was tied to EU states, Hahn said.

He noted that Austria, his native country, alone invested four times more than Russia in Serbia. "I don't think we should play it [Russian competition] down, but we should be clear on our own weight and relevance," he said.

The Western Balkans policy envisaged €500 million in EU payments to the region in 2018 to 2020, but Hahn said this money had already been earmarked for this purpose in the budget and was not a top-up.

Opinion

Tension ahead if Kosovo left out of EU strategy

It is crucial that the EU strategy and the Sofia summit provide the same accession perspective to all six Western Balkan countries, Kosovo president's top official says.

EU divided over Western Balkan enlargement

After the European Commission presented its Western Balkans strategy last week, with a view of possibly integrating the region by 2025, some EU ministers were less enthusiastic after their first discussion of the new policy.

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