Serbia and the EU – who needs who?

Though the EU – seemingly motivated by the US and “led” by Germany – rejected Serbia’s candidacy over its continued “refusal” to surrender Kosovo, it is increasingly apparent that the EU needs the Balkans inside even more than the Balkans needs to get inside.

By Gerard M. Gallucci

The European Union has said “no” to Serbia.  Chancellor Merkel’s order to the rest of Europe to become more German will probably lead to the unraveling of the Euro – and maybe the EU – as the mandated austerity will sooner or later splinter on the various national political realities.  In the middle of this, Serbia’s president, Boris Tadić, continues to tie his country and his own political fate to gaining EU membership.  One might see in this an a-historical strategic choice.

The EU – apparently motivated by the US and “led” by Germany – rejected Serbia’s candidacy over its continued “refusal” to surrender Kosovo.  The US seems to believe that all the Serbs need is some good hard hits on the head to come to heel.  In north Kosovo, US KFOR has acted on the ground to administer such blows (as on September 27th) while pushing the German/Austrian KFOR to do the same.

In the “diplomatic” realm, the EU is expressing its certainty that surely Serbia will get candidacy next year after it has shown the good sense to do as it has been told and give up the north.  The EU wants to see “actions and not words.”  The EU is careful to inform that this does not mean “recognition” but “normalization” of relations with Kosovo.  And taking down those nasty barricades that injured NATO soldiers trying to remove them.

However, “normalizing” relations with Pristina will not mean any special status for the north but rather bringing the north into Kosovo institutions on Kosovo Albanian terms.  The dialogue that Brussels has sought to use to find an un-American way to approach the northern stalemate keeps running into Pristina’s refusal to accept any practical arrangements that do not somehow entrench Kosovo sovereignty.  The US says it doesn’t have to.  Meanwhile, KFOR sometimes passes through the barricades and sometimes doesn’t because the northern Serbs refuse to let EULEX by until it stops taking Kosovo Albanian officials to the boundary crossings and KFOR still insists.  (EULEX is using helicopters for now despite the Kosovo Albanian officials sitting and doing nothing once there as the crossings remain blocked.)

Tadić remains wedded to doing everything he can for EU membership.  The northern Kosovo Serbs are worried that under EU pressure he might try to cut them off.  Perhaps stop paying salaries or withdraw the MUP.  As almost everyone knows, however, except apparently the Quint, Tadić cannot simply cut the north off, certainly not when the EU placed a noose around his neck and is kicking the chair out from under him.  He has to have somewhere to put his feet.

It has been said that the trouble with the Balkans is that it produces more history than it can consume.  It actually seems more that the Balkans produces too much history for the rest of Europe to consume.  It was the frontline for centuries in Europe’s defensive war with the Ottomans, who were still there just 100 years ago.  The “Holy Romans” and “Habsburgs” of today are now standing at the Gates keeping the Serbs out of Europe.  In truth, however, the EU needs the Balkans inside even more then the Balkans needs to get inside.

The EU loses if there is any “outside.”  As it is discovering, for a united European economy to work, everyone must be inside and playing by the same rules.  An EU based on exclusions and inequalities – where Germany can reap huge profits by selling to neighbors who don’t pay their debts – won’t work.  Austerity alone will only stop the buying and not resolve the problems.  And anyone left outside might do quite well taking-up with those who eventually fall out.

Serbia might be wiser to tell the EU that for now, it is comfortable with handling the Kosovo issue in its own way and when it is ready, it will get back to Brussels.  Don’t call us, we’ll call you?

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.

To read TransConflict’s recently-released policy paper, entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here.

To keep up-to-date with the work of TransConflict, please click here. If you are interested in supporting TransConflict, please click here.

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