Monday

23rd Apr 2018

Opinion

A plea for Kosovo - voices from Pristina and Brussels

Our aim is to give a twin perspective on Kosovo's present situation and its integration path towards the EU.

We thought it interesting and enriching to see Kosovo's future accession to the EU from two different points of view: Pristina and Brussels, where in one the accent is more on what the EU should do, and from Brussels the emphasis is on Kosovo's institutions' accountability for the way ahead.

The view from Pristina is by Bekim Collaku, chief of staff to the president of Kosovo and a former minister for EU Integration, and the view from Brussels by Antonia Battaglia, researcher at the Centre for Political Theory of ULB University in Brussels.

Pristina

Kosovo, as an integral part of the mosaic making up the Western Balkans, needs to be treated as an equal with the other five partners in the region, in the European Union's plans to enlarge in this non-EU pocket of Europe.

The strategy of the European Commission makes distinctions among the countries of the Western Balkans.

Some are treated as more advanced, and are given more concrete targets for accession by 2025, while others are not given any precise steps.

However, the EU accession perspective is strong for all the 'Western Balkans Six' and it would be a mistake to allow this vagueness in the text to now concretely restrict Kosovo and its EU integration.

The EU realises that leaving Kosovo behind would be a grave strategic mistake. Such an approach would indeed deteriorate the political and economic situation in Kosovo, and ultimately in the entire region.

The strategy for the Western Balkans puts a strong emphasis on the need to solve bilateral disputes before joining the Union.

However, to make this happen all 28 member states must reiterate that all six Western Balkan countries enjoy an EU perspective.

Unfortunately, the EU Council has already confirmed that enlargement as such, will not be a topic of discussion at the Sofia summit in May, which is a missed opportunity.

When it comes to Kosovo's bilateral dispute with Serbia, both Kosovo and Serbia have committed to the dialogue for the normalisation of relations.

But both have put their trust in the EU as mediator of this dialogue because of the promise that solving the issues between the two countries will enable EU membership. There is no alternative to dialogue, and it is difficult to emphasise enough its importance.

Events that took place in Kosovo on 26 March 2018 when a Serbian state official entered Kosovo illegally and in violation of the mutually-agreed procedures, which then led to his arrest by Kosovo police, illustrates how brittle the stability on the ground is, and how things can also escalate for the worse.

Security and stability in Europe to a great extend depends on the ability to preserve peace in the Western Balkans.

The EU has a poor track record when it comes to conflict prevention and peace-making in the region so far.

The message should be clear: all bilateral disputes, including between Kosovo and Serbia, will need to be solved before accession to the EU.

Only this can make the Sofia summit the moment where the Western Balkans' EU perspective becomes real.

Brussels

The ambitious strategy set out by the European Commission for the accession of the Western Balkans to the EU has underlined that Kosovo has still a road ahead before meeting the requirements of the membership process.

The call is on the need for deep and durable reforms in the areas of rule of law, independence of the judiciary, fight against corruption and organised crime, good governance and respect of fundamental rights. Moreover, border disputes should be resolved before any accession talk.

The road to Europe has its next most important stop-over in Sofia on 17 May, where the summit on Western Balkans will represent the opportunity to deepen mutual commitment, to foster economic cooperation and heighten reciprocal engagement on security, migration and, most of all, mutual connectivity.

But, if the strategy is meant to bring Kosovo to the future, the international community should engage more clearly with a detailed path towards EU membership, building effective partnership and favouring the participation of local institutions to relevant EU policy discussions.

Kosovo needs to 'grow' into Europe.

As recent events have showed, the country is still a very delicate fulcrum where any action related to the dialogue with Belgrade may become disruptive of the peace accords.

Kosovo needs to be lifted of the uncertainty lingering around its status and, if the European perspective wants to be successful, it needs to mature through the empowerment, responsibility and accountability. A real relationship.

The integration of Serbs living in the North and the strengthening of their position within Kosovo institutions should take place unconditionally of what happens in Belgrade.

Keeping on making the future of Kosovo and Serbia so interdependent heightens pressure and further burdens the difficult internal situation.

The Kosovo leadership, at the same time, needs to become ambitious, bold, set to work more than ever for the adoption of anti-corruption and anti-crime reforms, for social change and investment in the economy and education.

The EU needs to face the issues of liberalisation of visas and the question of the status.

Spain (along with Slovakia, Romania, Greece and Cyprus), not being ready to grant Kosovo its status are committing a big political mistake that talks loads about the past but finds no place into a broad European perspective.

Catalonia's population has not undergone a war, and the case of Kosovo cannot be at any time be compared to the current Spanish internal political situation.

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that the Western Balkans believe in Europe more than 'we' (those of us already 'European' by passport) do. True.

Sacrificing real advancement to maintaining an apparent (fragile) stability in the region has showed ineffective. Kosovo needs a brand new future.

And Europe needs a rock-solid Kosovo.

Bekim Collaku is chief of staff to the president of Kosovo and a former minister for EU Integration. Antonia Battaglia was a UN officer in Kosovo, and is a researcher at the Centre for Political Theory of ULB University in Brussels, author of a book on Kosovo, and writes for Balkan Insight

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