Kosovo – will the EU demand surrender?

The EU appears to be under pressure from Germany to only grant Serbia candidate status – without a date to start accession negotiations – and only under specific conditions that would push Belgrade to surrender the north on Pristina’s terms.

By Gerard Gallucci

Last July I suggested that the EU appeared to be moving towards setting a new condition for Serbia’s EU membership – reaching an accommodation with Pristina on the north. By August, it seemed clear that the EU – indeed the Quint – was using the crisis in the north (provoked by Pristina’s attempted “invasion”) to demand that Serbia effectively give up the north to receive candidacy with a date. Now it seems that the EU may be under pressure from Germany to allow only candidacy, and only under specific conditions that would push Belgrade to surrender the north on Pristina’s terms. The Germans apparently remain anxious to settle the Kosovo issue in a way that pleases the Kosovo Albanians so that the Albanians (and Roma) can be kept – and sent back – there. They now may believe they have Tadic in a strangle hold.

Blic reports that Germany is insisting that the European Commission, in its opinion on Serbian candidacy, demand that Belgrade meet four conditions – unconditional continuation of dialogue with Pristina, reaching agreement over regional representation of Kosovo, agreements on telecommunications and electricity, Pristina taking over the court in north Mitrovica and abolition of local Serbian (“parallel”) institutions in the north.

Not all the Europeans feel as strongly as the Germans. Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, reportedly denied that Kosovo was an obstacle for Serbia on its path to the EU and noted that it was not Belgrade but Pristina that was responsible for the current crisis in the north. The Italian Foreign Minister reportedly said that Italy would push for Serbia’s candidacy but that while dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is not a precondition for candidacy, it would “help improve the atmosphere in that regard.” But the UK predictably seems also to be taking a hard line, insisting that the question now is not Serbian membership but finding “constructive” solutions between Belgrade and Pristina. If Berlin – backed by the UK and non-EU member, the US – insists on the proposed four conditions, then it would seem unlikely that the other cash-starved EU members would balk.

Belgrade reportedly offered some ideas for resolving the current northern crisis through the EU’s mediator. But with support from NATO and EULEX on the ground in the north – still trying to force the northern Serbs to accept Kosovo customs checkpoints – and with EU pressure over Serbian candidacy, Pristina sees no reason to accept dialogue or compromise on the north.

Belgrade, for its part, seems to be running out of room for maneuver. Some officials there are talking now of accepting a “Dayton-style” conference in which everything would be up for grabs. President Tadic needs a clear opening from Brussels on EU membership. By now, everyone knows there will not be a date. Serbs also understand that some form of accommodation over Kosovo – perhaps even recognition – would have to be done before actual membership. But candidacy with conditions that require immediate acceptance of placing the north under rule from Pristina is further than Tadic can go politically.

The German/British/American hardline approach of using EU candidacy to “force” Serbia to accept the loss of north Kosovo would require Tadic to recognize the complete loss of Kosovo. The use of force – in the form of diplomatic pressure, as much as on the ground – is unlikely to produce the results that the Quint demands. More likely is that flagging Serbian support for EU membership would turn into complete rejection of Tadic and his European perspective in response to the unacceptable terms and blatant attempts at blackmail by the EU. It seems that the EU may be on the verge of setting back an historic accommodation in the Balkans for trying to hand a tiny piece of it to a regime that already cannot deal with its own problems alone.

And the barricades, by the way, remain despite the advent of cold weather.

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. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s Advisory Board.

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