Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

EU eyes Kosovo and Serbia enlargement deal

  • "Hope this reassures people who are getting nervous", Mogherini said (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU institutions have voiced hope of a new breakthrough in Western Balkans enlargement, despite "nerves" about land swaps for ethnic reasons.

Kosovo and Serbia might normalise relations in a binding agreement in 2019, EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said after EU talks in Vienna on Friday (31 August).

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  • Mogherini to resume talks with Serbia (l) and Kosovo presidents next week (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

"We're all committed to finalise negotiations in the coming months, before the end of the mandate of this commission ... it's still very difficult, but it's not impossible," she said, referring to the European Commission, whose current mandate expires in October next year.

"There's a possibility to finally move on," Mogherini said.

Speculation is mounting that Kosovo and Serbia plan to exchange ethnic enclaves in a territorial swap, paving the way to Serbia's recognition of Kosovo and, later down the line, to their EU memberships.

The US backed the idea earlier in August, saying: "We wouldn't stand in the way, and I don't think anybody in Europe would stand in the way".

A Kosovo-Serbia deal would "help those [EU] member states who have not yet recognised Kosovo to arrive at a final decision about it," Teodor Melescanu, Romania's foreign minister, said also in Vienna on Friday.

Romania, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, and Spain as well as Serbia do not recognise Kosovo.

But Serbian recognition would still be a leap forward for Western Balkans enlargement, Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders said.

"We need an accord between the two partners, so that, on the Serbian side, we can recognise Kosovo, and the two countries [Serbia and Kosovo] can progress toward the European Union," Reynders said in the Austrian capital.

The importance of the breakthrough would be comparable to the Greece-Macedonia name deal earlier this year, he said.

Greece and Macedonia ended a decades-old dispute on Macedonia's name in June, unlocking Macedonia's EU and Nato bids.

Macedonia now hopes to become an EU member by 2030 and to join Nato next year.

Ethnic purity

Mogherini, who is brokering talks between Kosovo and Serbia's presidents, said "whatever outcome is mutually agreed [by them] would get our support, provided that it is ... in line with international law and with the European Union acquis [laws]".

"European history is based on overcoming and preventing any idea of ethnically pure nation states," she said.

"I hope this reassures people who are getting nervous about some ideas floating around," she added, as she prepared to resume the Kosovo-Serbia negotiations in Brussels next week.

Some Western Balkans foreign ministers, who attended Friday's EU meeting, echoed Europe's top diplomat.

"This process ought to be finalised with mutual recognition [by Kosovo and Serbia] in a legally binding agreement," Albania's Ditmir Bushati said.

Serbia's Ivica Dacic said: "Serbia is committed to reaching a compromise between Pristina and Belgrade because this would increase stability in the region and would open our path toward the EU".

Nerves

The deal in the air is to exchange ethnic Serb parts of north Kosovo for the ethnic Albanian Presevo Valley in Serbia.

It risks a backlash by nationalists in Kosovo and Serbia.

It also risks emboldening Albanians in Macedonia and Croats and Serbs in Bosnia to try to redraw borders fewer than 20 years after the Western Balkan wars ended.

Mogherini still had "nervous" heads to "reassure" as the talks move from Vienna to the EU capital next week.

"We believe that this [a territorial swap] can tear open too many old wounds in the population and so we're very sceptical," German foreign minister Heiko Maas told reporters on Friday.

"It could be a little bit risky if it isn't handled properly", Finland's Timo Soini said in Vienna.

There could be "very negative consequences", Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn said.

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