Saturday

25th Mar 2017

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The Union under threat

The effect of Brexit will be much more profound on Northern Ireland than on Scotland. Some kind of border controls with Ireland seem inevitable.

Bulgaria's election test

Sunday's general elections will be a test for the country's relations with the EU, Russia, and Turkey, as well as for the political future of former leader Borisov.

'Mr Putin steps into French elections'

Putin treated France's anti-EU firebrand, Le Pen, as if she had already won the elections. "I have my own viewpoint ... identical to Russia's", she said.

SMEs lack support in EU financial plan

The European Commission's plan for a capital markets union is said to be aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises, but many could end up being left out in the cold.

Bulgaria's election test

Sunday's general elections will be a test for the country's relations with the EU, Russia, and Turkey, as well as for the political future of former leader Borisov.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  2. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  3. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  4. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  5. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  6. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  7. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  9. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  10. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  11. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  12. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  2. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  4. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  5. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  7. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  8. Malta EU 2017Maltese Presidency and EP Agree on Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine
  9. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Lead the Way on Women's Economic Empowerment
  11. Center for Data InnovationBuilding Smart Cities for Tomorrow's Data Economy – 28 March - Brussels