Kosovo - the EU still looking to bully Belgrade?

Kosovo – the EU still looking to bully Belgrade?

The EU has managed to appear to be resolving the Kosovo conflict through dialogue without actually going anywhere; Serbia and Kosovo have edged closer to each other physically, but the substantive gap between their positions remains total and zero-sum.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

The EU-sponsored dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo appears to have made striking progress in the last months.  The two prime ministers have met repeatedly and even had their pictures taken together.  Dialogue produced apparent substantive movement on two important issues:  boundary crossings and representation.  The long stalled IBM agreement (“integrated border management,” text here) is now being implemented at northern and southern crossing points.  Prime Ministers Dacic and Thaci have agree to place representatives in each other’s capitals.  (The EU will play an intermediary role with the representatives being housed in EU offices.  No date yet announced for posting them.)

However, a close look at what is happening on the ground, and at the EU’s position on Serbia’s EU membership prospects, suggests there is less than meets the eye.

Belgrade hoped that cooperation with the EU over Kosovo would win a decision to fix a date for beginning talks on Serbia’s accession.  Indeed, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule called the recent developments “great news” and Belgrade “brave” for matching deeds with words by taking “numerous valuable steps in the implementation of the agreements reached in the dialogue to date.”  He suggested that there is now a “clear timetable” for Serbia.  But the EU also made it clear that more is expected from Belgrade before a starting date is granted and that the dialogue needs to continue in January.  EU foreign ministers “praised” Serbia and Kosovo for progress in the talks but concluded that “visible and sustainable improvement in relations between Serbia and Kosovo is needed so that both can continue on their respective European paths.”  The ministers decided to postpone decision on a date pending further progress.  Fule explained that the EU’s “conditions” for Serbia still must be met.

Belgrade knows what those conditions are.  As deputy prime minister, Suzana Grubješić, explained to the press, the EU expects “normalization” of relations with Kosovo – not outright recognition, but implementation of all agreements reached in the dialogue and a “search for a solution for north Kosovo.”  But the EU wants more than a mere “search.”  While press reports suggested some division within the EU on Serbia – with a majority favouring setting a date now – Germany apparently wants first to see Belgrade withdrawing its presence from northern Kosovo.  The choice being set by Brussels (or Berlin, really) is the EU or Kosovo.

Implementation of the IBM in north Kosovo has begun with the northern Kosovo Serb leadership backing off, for now, from any effort to blockade the two Gates.  The northerners have been concerned that the agreement would lead to a “border” between them and Serbia and had been occupying the roads to the crossings (without closing them).  But the four northern mayors decided to “suspend” their protest given assurances from Belgrade that nothing would be done to subject them to Kosovo customs or border procedures.  (All that seems to have actually happened on the ground is that Serbian and Kosovo police and customs have moved their containers – long in place to house staff – closer to each other.  No flags or other national markings at the crossings are allowed and whatever functions performed should be in the presence of EU staff.)  The mayors said they would monitor the situation but charge that Pristina’s officials at the crossings are already demanding that customs be paid.

The EU has managed to appear to be resolving the Kosovo conflict through dialogue without actually going anywhere.  Serbia and Kosovo have edged closer to each other physically but the substantive gap between their positions remains total and zero-sum.  Most crucially, the status of the north – part of Serbia, part of Kosovo or somehow part of both – remains unresolved.   The Quint still sees “dialogue” as a way for Serbia to surrender the north and still is using the prospect of EU membership to bully Belgrade into doing so.

Talk is always better than violence.  And it is good too that KFOR and EULEX appear to have put aside for now the use of force to subject north Kosovo to rule from Pristina.  But it remains the case that Belgrade cannot simply surrender north Kosovo to Pristina.  When the edifice of “dialogue” collapses without having changed anything essential, what will be the Quint’s Plan B?

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.

To read TransConflict’s policy paper, written by Gerard and entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.


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12 Responses

  1. Fadil

    There is no choice for Belgrade such as EU or Kosovo. There are only two options – EU or nothing. Even in Serbia, many politicians agree on that. Serbian prime Dacic would say also “Kosovo was ‘taken’ from us and we can take it back only if start fighting for it”. But fighting would mean confrontation with the most powerful military organization – NATO and Albanians. So this is not an option.

    Politically, everything Belgrade wants must be accepted from Pristina.

    In such situation, is there a choice EU or Kosovo??? Not at all.

    So, its better for Serbia to have something instead of nothing. Its Serbia’s choice, however, whether wants something (EU) instead of nothing.

    Even the north of Kosovo. Just imagine hypothetical situation in which Serbia leaves EU path. In such scenario there is no more dialogue and automatically the border would be closed including crossings in the north of Kosovo. Security forces would have to deal with “alternative crossings” in the north as well. Next step would be expelling of Serbian security forces from Kosovo. The rest is something that could be understood easily.

  2. ruby

    Fadil, what you fail to understand is: fighting is an option, indeed. and don´t fool yourself with believing that NATO will attack Serbia again. times have changed, you only do not realize it.
    last but not least, the Albanians will not be much of a problem, I´d say. the only important thing is to secure that no foreign powers can meddle in our affairs again. and that will be successful too. just a question of time.

    1. Fadil

      @ruby,

      Apparently you didn’t understand properly my statements. NATO is not going to attack Serbia, unless Serbia doesn’t attack Kosovo. I urge you reading carefully UN SC resolution 1244 and paragraph 9, sub-paragraph (a) in particular, which says: “Deterring renewed hostilities, maintaining and where necessary enforcing a ceasefire, and ensuring the withdrawal and preventing the return into Kosovo of Federal and Republic military, police and paramilitary forces, except as provided in point 6 of annex 2;”.

      Take note in particular wording “PREVENTING the return into Kosovo”, which means that any attempt of Serbian forces to enter Kosovo must be PREVENTED from NATO, not to mention any attack.

      If you ask NATO officials what they are doing in Kosovo, they would respond “we are fulfilling the mandate given from UN SC by resolution 1244″. NATO will do that unless UN SC decides otherwise.

      In other side, if you indeed believe that Albanians would not be a problem in case Serbia attacks Kosovo then probably you don’t live in real world. Just imagine the readiness of Albanian man to protect his family in comparison to Serbian man from Belgrade or Novi Sad who has never been in Kosovo.

      So I would exclude in any circumstance possibility of attacking Kosovo from Serbia because it would be terrible suicide for Serbia itself.

      In this regard, there is a hope that actual Serbian leaders realized what is possible and what they lost so its the last time to compensate lost time. Take for example economic situation in Serbia. According to Serbian economists, Serbia today has the same macroeconomic indicators as that of year 1971, and that means Serbia is more than 40 years backward. Serbia, of course, may deepen its crisis by continuing to fight in Monty Python style but may harm only itself.

      The only way forward is normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia as two independent states and doing the maximum to protect Serbian minority in cooperation with international community. Kosovo authorities have already accepted giving to Serbian minority in Kosovo special rights never seen in any country. Take for example any country in world that for 5%, official language is secured in whole country.

  3. Afrim

    I think the EU has lost a lot of credibility with not only Serbia but also other potential candidate countries. This is mostly because the EU keeps moving the goalposts. Not only is it unfair and shows a double standard. It makes potential and existing members rethink the benefits of being a member. Bear in mind that it is wrong to make a blanket statement of saying “the EU” is doing this as opposed to a select few people of influence from a select few countries. If Serbia loses interest in joining the eu then there’d be a big hole in Europe, something that is not in the interest of the EU.

  4. Milli

    What would we do without Fadil, to explain everything via Fadil’s 101 class, i.e. everything about the Balkans, esp. Kosova? Fadil, give it a break. We know how it works in that region.

  5. MikeS

    Belgrade has several choices, it’s all about which is best. First of all, the EU cannot simply recongnize Kosovo as a country and magically grant it status. Five of the their very own members do not and will not ever recognize this fabricated tradgedy of a state. The UN 1244 resolution was written by the very people who are trying to destroy it now. Funny how that works. That resolution alone recognizes that Kosovo is included with Serbia as a sovereign state. Serbia can keep Kosovo in limbo for as long as it wants, so long as it stops following the EU’s rotten carrot. Also, members of the UN security council, namely Russia and China will never allow full membership status for Kosovo. Serbia may as well rename Kosovo to the Province of Limbo, Serbia and just follow Norway and Switzerland as non-EU members.

    1. Fadil

      @MikeS,

      It would be nice to see “several choices” for Belgrade in regard to Kosovo and EU. First of all let me know you that organizations, such as EU or UN, DO NOT RECOGNIZE states. State recognition is EXCLUSIVELY right of another states. Nevertheless don’t be so sure about not recognition of Kosovo by remaining 5 member states. Kosovo representatives declared independence and officials in Slovakia, for instance, declared that will “never” recognize Kosovo but recently Slovakia has been visited from minister of foreign affairs of Kosovo in official visit. I hope you understand the meaning of such diplomatic action. Greece recognizes everything from the state of Kosovo excluding formal recognition.

      As for UN SC resolution 1244 there is not a single word saying that Kosovo :has to be included within Serbia”. It is just an imagination of people. Note that ICJ, in its advisory opinion, said CLEARLY that Kosovo independence did not violate UN SC R 1244 as it could be the case, for instance, with northern Cyprus which violated UN SC R 1251, adopted just 19 days after 1244 from the same body.

      As for UN, yes Russia may block Kosovo being full member of UN but can’t stop Kosovo being a STATE observer at UN. In any case if Kosovo, if Russia blocks Kosovo being ful member of UN there will be a nice solution and you will be witness on that occasion. Just wait and see. That solution will EXCLUDE Serbia for sure.

      As for Serbia at EU, it may or may not be part of EU integration. Simply a choice of Serbian state. But in either choice, whether part of EU or not, Serbia remains without Kosovo. Just to remind of another “detail”, as “evil is in details”, Serbia is recognized by all EU member states but the question is what part of Serbia is recognized? Another “detail” is that accession to EU is not a decision of EU commission but EU members. If just ONE of EU members doesn’t ratify accession then nothing can be done.

      Lastly, Serbia “may rename Kosovo” as it wishes but just in papers and that does not affect Kosovo in any circumstance.

  6. Dejan

    the only good news here is that KFOR and EULEX are backing off the pressure on Serbians. We were worried that they were going to attack us for Christmas. Maybe the Middle East has them preoccupied.

    1. Gerard Gallucci

      Customs still an issue at two northern crossings. Apparently there is no agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on collecting customs fees there. However, Pristina officials at the Gates have been – with EULEX support? – trying to unilaterally enforce collection of fees on goods for use in the north. Payment of customs on goods bound for the south – in south Mitrovica terminal – has been the case. But making northern Kosovo Serbs pay customs to Pristina has not. Forcing northerners to pay fees to Pristina would not be status neutral.

      1. Fadil

        Some times I ask my self whether this is comic site or site in which serious political issues are discussed. “Forcing northerners to pay fees to Pristina would not be status neutral.”, this makes me indeed laughing. Why, for instance, paying of fees, BY ALL, including Serbs, at Merdare crossing border is “status neutral” and not in the north???!!!

        Because some Serbs “do not wish that”.

        I would like to ask Gallucci, what USA government would if some Mexicans in any of many border crossings with Mexico simply “do not wish” to pay taxes. So let be fair with people since “not wishing” is an argument. Or some people, for instance, don;t like Obama and they “don’t wish” to pay for his administration. Why one should deny at all their wish?? Is that fair??

  7. Milli

    Albanians want to take over the region, by sheer numbers. They’d love to bully the Serbs to leave the north of Kosovo too. We’ve seen what’s happened via the bully tactics of USA-NATO in 1999. They’ve opened up a hornet’s nest, simply by NATO re-inventing itself and USA needing one more huge military base, in the Balkans. It’s a vicious circle, esp. when bullies are involved.

  8. Mirel

    The agreement is that sebs in North,will pay for every vehicle above 3.5 tons.Like or not Mr.Gallucci it is a real border no matter how u like to paint it this is the truth.People in North will get what Ahtisaari plan gives them,nothing more.

    I am more curious what Gallucci will say about the platforme of Kosovo that Nikolic is preparing.
    According to the serbian media in the document, the Serbian authorities demand a high level of territorial and political autonomy for the Serb municipalities, “modeled after Catalonia”,

    and
    … “the Republic of Serbia does not and will never recognize Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence”….

    So give sebs authonomy and recieve nothing.Every person with half brain can not accept this.Serbs think that the others are fools and they are the smartest people in the Europe,otherwise I can not explain this “DOCUMENT”.
    This “documents” may be a manuscript for a comedy,not for serious negotiations.

    Please tell me that your president is joking,otherwise he needs medical attention.

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