Tuesday

31st Mar 2020

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

Support quality EU news

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

... or join 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.

Coronavirus

EU states urged to share sick patients

EU states should take in sick people from Italy and Spain in a show of solidarity amid foreign propaganda attacks, MEPs have said.

Coronavirus

Orban granted indefinite 'authoritarian' power

Ushering in a new era for Hungary - and for the EU - the central European country becomes the first to be ruled by decree, after Orban's party forced virus emergency laws through parliament.

Analysis

Italy and Spain: worst - or just first?

Italy and Spain, the most-affected countries in the EU, have tightened their response to the coronavirus outbreak - as the pair together now account for more than half of the world's death toll.

Podcast

Věra Jourová on surveillance and Covid-19

Commissioner for values and transparency, Věra Jourová, says Brussels will vet moves in Hungary to give prime minister Viktor Orbán scope to rule by decree and urges Facebook and Google to push official health advice to WhatsApp and YouTube.

News in Brief

  1. 12-year old Belgian girl dies of coronavirus
  2. EU Commission: no 'indefinite' emergency measures
  3. Denmark plans 'gradual' return to normal after Easter
  4. Globally over 780,000 cases of coronavirus, 37,000 deaths
  5. EU states losing 3% of GDP a month, IMF says
  6. Fruit pickers need to cross borders too, EU says
  7. Former Slovak minister to become EU envoy on Kosovo-Serbia
  8. Hungary's Orban wins rule-by-decree vote in parliament

Podcast

Věra Jourová on surveillance and Covid-19

Commissioner for values and transparency, Věra Jourová, says Brussels will vet moves in Hungary to give prime minister Viktor Orbán scope to rule by decree and urges Facebook and Google to push official health advice to WhatsApp and YouTube.

Agenda

EU struggles to remain united This WEEK

EU countries continue to wrestle with economic shock of pandemic and with sharing of medical resources, posing deep questions on solidarity in the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us