Sunday

11th Apr 2021

Early warnings to Serbia about Kosovo may come true

  • Kosovo - Serbia's position on Kosovo looks likely to harm its EU membership prospects (Photo: CharlesFred)

If Serbia does not let go of Kosovo, it will ultimately lose on two fronts - both the contested strip of land as well as the prospect of EU membership. This prediction, made by American diplomat Richard Holbrooke in Brussels more than three years ago, still rings true today.

As do the words of a German ex-ambassador to Belgrade, the late Andreas Zobel, who once warned that Serbia will not enter the EU before 2025 if it does not change its policies towards Kosovo.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Both diplomats' predictions may yet be fulfilled as the views from European capitals show.

"Serbia hasn't gained anything on Kosovo in the EU in recent years. It has only lost a lot of the support for speeding up its own European integration. Patience and understanding for Serbian politics towards Kosovo is evaporating," a diplomat from the European side of the Contact Group, which brings together the US, Germany, France, Italy, the UK and Russia, told WAZ.EUobserver.

"A few years ago, most top European politicians, French President Nicolas Sarkozy for example, always mentioned Serbia in particular when they spoke about the Western Balkans. Now, even foreign ministers of the most important EU countries don't go to Belgrade unless they also visit at least three or four other capitals. German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle will visit Belgrade shortly but only as one stop in a two-day tour of the region," added our interlocutor.

A similar shift of position is visible in most key European capitals.

London has historically been a staunch supporter of EU enlargement. For a long time, the Foreign Office in London believed that the dates of EU accession for Croatia and Serbia need not be too far apart. Serbian politics towards Kosovo have led to a British change of mind in recent years, however.

Before Kosovo's declaration of independence, London was among the countries who wanted to considerably speed up Serbian EU integration. Now, the UK is among those who clearly state that Serbia's EU entry prospects depend on its approach to Kosovo.

Although no one in Berlin will admit it publicly, Serbia has also proven to be a valuable ally for German enlargement sceptics in recent years. For Germany, it would be much more difficult to advocate a restrictive line on EU enlargement had Serbia arrested former military commander Ratko Mladic, wanted for war crimes in Bosnia, and had the country been more constructive on Kosovo.

Germany initially had more doubts about Kosovo independence than any other Western member of the Contact Group. But once German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, the EU's representative in the US-Russian-European "troika" in autumn 2007, asserted that independence was the least harmful solution, the status question was settled for Berlin. Germany is no longer prepared to make concessions to Serbia on EU membership because of Kosovo.

France, by contrast, was once a very active player in searching for a solution welcomed by both sides. For Paris, this means an independent Kosovo and Serbia within the EU. France was a very strong supporter of Serbian EU integration and insisted on opening the procedure for granting Belgrade official candidate status.

Also, until last February, Paris held that Serbian EU integration and the Kosovo issue should be separated. This changed, however, when the French leadership acknowledged that Serbia showed no signs of revising its stance on Kosovo. So, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner became the first top EU official to publicly announce in Belgrade that Serbia cannot enter the EU without good, or at least acceptable, relations with Kosovo.

Rome and Athens have played, more or less, a similar game from opposite sides. Italy can be said to be Serbia's best friend among the EU countries that have recognised Kosovo's independence. Greece is Kosovo's best friend among the five EU states that refuse to do so.

Unfortunately for Belgrade and Pristina, after the split-up of the largest party in the ruling coalition, Italy is on the brink of a parliamentary crisis and new elections. The Greek government, on the other hand, is grappling with too many problems of its own to be listened to when advising on other countries' difficulties. Thus, Belgrade can expect no substantial help from either Italy or Greece in the coming months.

In Spain, Slovakia and Cyprus, autonomy or independence are delicate issues domestically. They all have reasons of their own for not recognising Kosovo. In the case of Romania, non-recognition is the personal position of the President Traian Basescu. As long as he remains in office, it is hard to see Bucharest recognising Pristina.

However, these countries' positions only appear to serve Serbian interests. In fact, they are a further stumbling block as they block Serbia's - and Kosovo's - way west for a long time yet.

Exclusive

Four deaths after taking Russian Sputnik V vaccine

Four people recently died after taking Russia's Sputnik V anti-corona jab in previously unreported cases, which are being taken "seriously" by the EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency.

Opinion

After 50 years, where do Roma rights stand now?

Beatings, forced sterilisation, police violence and fire bombings by right-wing extremists against Romani communities are still a reality in Europe. The corona pandemic only worsened this situation.

News in Brief

  1. Turkey blames EU for sexist protocol fiasco
  2. France to close elite civil-service academy
  3. Covid-19 cases in UK drop 60%, study finds
  4. White House urges 'calm' after Northern Ireland riots
  5. Italy's Draghi calls Turkey's Erdoğan a 'dictator'
  6. Slovakia told to return Sputnik V amid quality row
  7. EU risks €87bn in stranded fossil fuel assets
  8. Obligatory vaccination not against human rights, European court says

Column

Why Germans understand the EU best

In Germany, there is commotion about a new book in which two journalists describe meetings held during the corona crisis between federal chancellor Angela Merkel, and the 16 prime ministers of its federal constituent states.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. The Covid bell tolls for eastern Europe's populists
  2. Four deaths after taking Russian Sputnik V vaccine
  3. Post-Brexit riots flare up in Northern Ireland
  4. Advice on AstraZeneca varies across EU, amid blood clot fears
  5. Greenland election could see halt to rare-earth mining
  6. After 50 years, where do Roma rights stand now?
  7. Why Iran desperately wants a new nuclear deal
  8. Does new EU-ACP deal really 'decolonise' aid?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us