The so-called French-German plan for Kosovo, endorsed by all EU countries, has been made finally public. Do you believe the plan will result in a significant ‘normalization’ of the Kosovo-Serbia relationship?
It is unlikely that the EU proposal will result in a significant normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia because it lacks the much needed political, legal, and operational clarity for transforming the current relationship. In essence the EU proposal is a significant downgrade from the premises upon which the current Government of Kosovo at least has agreed to negotiate for. Given the fact that the predominant focus of US and EU has been on the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities of Kosovo, it appears that the EU proposal is not centred on meeting Kosovo’s democratic will, but on appeasing Serbia and buying some sort of peace for the local Serb community in Kosovo. The EU proposal ambiguously endorsed by Kosovo and Serbia leaves room for interpretation as a legally binding agreement and a de-facto recognition of Kosovo’s independence, but that depends on the good faith of parties for its effective implementation. In contrast to the main body of the EU’s 11-point proposal, the Implementation Annex, which was intended to serve as a clear implementation guideline, has ended up being more ambiguous. As a result, there are many potential points of contention regarding the timing, order, and content of each point of the EU proposal as we are probably entering a new mode of status quo. One gets the impression that the US and EU determination to reach a flawed agreement reflects their desire to appear as credible peacemakers more than to create a deal that would bring about lasting peace and settle the many unresolved differences between the two states.
The plan evokes some advantages Serbia and Kosovo could have if they accept the plan. However, neither Belgrade nor Pristina will, for instance, be given a firm date for joining the EU. And Kosovars are still unable to freely travel to the EU, among other things. Why should both countries agree to such a plan without concrete benefits?
The long-term advantages for both parties have only been generally and hazily raised by the EU and US mediators. They primarily involve continued financial incentives and support for both countries’ European integration processes. Despite this, maintaining the current level of stability and preventing further tensions appear to be the core value of this agreement and the entire process of normalizing relations. There is little reason to think that the EU proposal will result in a path to peace that is emancipatory, just and progressive. In that sense, the deal is less about establishing a new relationship between Kosovo and Serbia that is based on mutual recognition, equality and reciprocity. Instead, it is an agreement to ensure a more stable stalemate. We are still a long way from achieving the desired level of normalcy in bilateral relations between two states, as is the case with the other Western Balkan countries. Moreover, the EU and US are largely responsible for delivering the concrete benefits, even though they also depend on the parties’ actions. For example, the EU and NATO member states’ willingness to advance Kosovo’s integration path and their support for membership in the Council of Europe and other international organizations are both necessary for the agreement to have tangible benefits for Kosovo. The same holds true for assisting Kosovo’s efforts to gain new diplomatic recognitions, including the strategically significant recognition by the five remaining EU member states.
Most important, it seem that the EU is pushing for a de facto, not a full recognition. Do you think this is enough?
Although the agreed-upon EU proposal resembles in many aspects a proposal for de facto recognition and may be seen as an improvement from the 2013 agreement, I believe it falls short of doing so. The implementation of each provision of the agreement, including those listed in the annex, will necessitate additional negotiations and concessions, which are likely to be blocked by parties and subsequently undermine their willingness to implement other aspects, barring explicit and mutual recognition. Without explicit clarity on the question of mutual recognition there won’t be a full and comprehensive normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia because recognition is the essential component that determines the quality of relationship, trust and willingness to make concessions.
The EU integration process is largely stalled. How dangerous is it given the geopolitical situation and Russia’s (but also China’s) interests in the region?
The EU integration process in the Western Balkans has been partially stalled due to the unsatisfactory fulfilment of EU accession criteria by the candidate and potential candidate countries, but it is also partially stalled due to EU’s internal divisions on the enlargement process. Both sides share the blame and responsibility for failing to uphold the legally-binding commitments, which has set the entire process into a spiral of mutual distrust and lack of credibility. The EU’s failure to offer a credible enlargement plan and constant change of priorities has opened up opportunities for national populist parties and non-Western forces to hijack political agenda in the region and undermine peace, democracy, and economy. But knowing that the EU-is an organization driven by reaction to crises and not reason, the dynamics of the stalled EU integration process in the Western Balkans are unlikely to change if there is no major crisis or external threat. Although the war in Ukraine has unified the EU in many aspects, it is yet to translate into a unified stance on the enlargement process in the Western Balkans.
One final question: do you believe the region is finally at peace, more than 30 years after the collapse of former Yugoslavia? Or are you concerned that existing fractures and tensions could lead to some kind of conflict again?
The situation in the western Balkans over the past three decades has demonstrated that the definitions of peace and conflict are more ambiguous and hybrid than is frequently believed. There are many encouraging signs that the countries in the region are committed to resolving the conflict through peaceful means, and we can therefore be certain that the region is currently experiencing a stable and relative peace. Certainly, the presence of strong international diplomatic and military presence in the region guarantees this fragile peace but it hasn’t succeeded in moving towards a self-sustaining peace free from external intervention. However, the unresolved remnants of the past, the accumulated and intertwined issues from the present, and the external or emerging factors that intertwine in the region are unquestionably a cause for concern and may lead to limited or low-key tensions and an escalation of violence. Public opinion, particularly in the Kosovo-Serbia dispute, is generally hostile and far from being ready to put aside differences and move forward. From this perspective, it can be argued that if the structural and emerging factors and causes of tensions are not addressed, we are likely to see the persistence of a fragile peace, which manifests itself through stalled and blocked peace processes, episodes of political tensions, and isolated acts of violence. The experience of Ukraine has demonstrated that the international peace-making centred on model of equating the victim and perpetrator state, the logic of “both-sideism” (equal responsibility) and the lack of firm decisions are unable to bring durable peace and more likely to result in frozen conflicts and hybrid forms of peace that endanger regional and international peace. If we translate this to the case of Serbia-Kosovo dispute, without putting mutual recognition in the centre, it is unlikely that there will be inter-state and societal reconciliation.