Serbia and Kosovo – the EU condition

Though the EU has attempted to exploit the Kosovo crisis to begin openly pressing Serbia to give up the north in order to enhance its membership prospects, it seems most likely that the Quint’s attempt at blackmail will not work.

By Gerard Gallucci

However and whoever was involved in – or encouraged, or turned a blind eye to – Pristina’s decision to send special police into north Kosovo, it seems that the EU has decided to use the occasion to begin openly pressing Belgrade to give up the north in order to get candidacy with a date. On Thursday, there were further discussions about the KFOR agreement on partially opening the two northern crossing points while KFOR at the Gates was still blocking cargo traffic on and off. To be clear on this last point, there are no legal grounds whatsoever for KFOR to be enforcing a general cargo blockade in the north. If Belgrade does not take this to the UN Security Council, then Russia and China should because of the precedent it sets for NATO disregarding UN obligations.

But let’s step back for a moment and consider possible scenarios as the Americans, EU and Pristina seek to push Belgrade to abandon the Serb-majority north. Let’s assume that the Quint does not use NATO and the Kosovo security forces to actually invade the north. Instead, they continue to press the northern Serbs by constant harassment and enforcement of Pristina’s blockade while mounting full political and diplomatic pressures to force President Tadić to choose between the EU and Kosovo. The EU facilitator for the “negotiations” has suggested that it is not important to assign blame for the crisis but to find solutions within the “wider context.” EU policy seems to be based on not learning anything from the recent past – e.g., on the need to thwart Pristina provocations – but on pushing Serbs to the wall.

In response to the EU effort to blackmail Belgrade, the first possible response is for Serbia to decide it can do without the EU. Even in the best case, Serbia was unlikely to be given a date for entry before 2018 or 2020. Between now and then, much can happen. The EU itself is having rather a rough time over the Euro and possible bailouts for even Spain and Italy. Indeed, Brussels might be cynical enough to demand of Tadić what it knows he cannot give in order to not have the additional headache of another country in the Union.

Or Tadić might decide to meet the US/EU demand to give up the north. It would be very difficult for him to do so, certainly openly. He wants EU candidacy for his re-election bid. But would he stand a chance if he got that but also gave up Kosovo? Perhaps all the Quint needs is a quiet agreement that Serbia will not respond to further efforts in the north and will tell the northerners they will have to accept the ICO and Pristina? It seems unlikely that Tadić could go even this far but it appears to be what the Quint is counting on.

So, let’s say Tadić agrees. He sends Borko Stefanović and Goran Bogdanović (Oliver Ivanović probably wouldn’t do it) to the north to tell everyone that they will have to live with Pristina but, if they behave, they can have the ICO and the Ahtisaari Plan (with no “plus”) and Belgrade will continue some support. If they refuse, Belgrade will cut them off entirely. How would the northern Serbs react?

They might accept the inevitable, with those that can afford moving elsewhere eventually. Or they might accept the reality of Belgrade’s abandoning them, but still refuse to accept the ICO and Kosovo Albanian officials and police in the north. Or the northern Serbs might decide to respond politically by declaring their own independence. This would not gain the same degree of recognition as Kosovo, but perhaps more than Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What would the Quint do in these cases?

Here we get to the core fallacy of the Quint machinations – how do you enforce the rule of one people over another without force? If you use force, how much for how long and at what price in blood? Does the Quint send in the tanks like al-Assad at Hama?

It seems most likely that the Quint’s attempt at blackmail will not work. It is more likely that Tadić could win re-election by standing up to EU pressure, rather than by caving in to it. Having promised Pristina the moon, what does the Quint then do to contain the frustration that results when they cannot have it?

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s advisory board. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.

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