Four scenarios for Serbia and Kosovo in 2035

The post-war status quo in Serbia-Kosovo relations changed in 2011 with the launching of the Brussels dialogue under the auspices of the EU. EU membership is a common goal for both Belgrade and Pristina. Under the 2013 Brussels Agreement, both sides undertook not to undermine the other side’s European integration path. Currently, both international and local pressure is growing on Belgrade and Pristina to define their relations through a comprehensive agreement on normalization, with a view to achieving a visible and sustainable improvement of mutual relations. However, before they start negotiating the comprehensive agreement on normalization, they must first implement the 2013 Brussels agreement. Although Serbian and Kosovo representatives confirm, in principle, their commitment to the full normalization of relations, they have differing and often conflicting views of this ultimate goal. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) offices in Belgrade and Pristina contribute to the debate on improving relations between Serbia and Kosovo and offer new perspectives to this end by launching the project Scenarios for Serbia-Kosovo Relations in 2035. Four scenarios on the state of relations between Serbia and Kosovo in 2035 were developed by multinational Scenario Group from September 2017 till February 2018.

Scenario I: Green Wave

Serbia and Kosovo reached a comprehensive normalization agreement in 2019. The agreement accelerated Serbia’s path to EU membership and enabled Kosovo to join international organizations. The agreement also offered sufficient safeguards for the Serb community in Kosovo, which participated in the Brussels dialogue, and eventually was one of the parties in the agreement. Serbia became an EU member in 2025 and Kosovo is expected to join the union in 2037. All Western Balkan countries have become NATO members. The process of rapprochement between Serbia and Kosovo was mostly successful, and relations between Serbian and Kosovo societies are also fully normalized.

Scenario II: Slow Traffic

Serbia has become an EU member. Kosovo is in the final phase of its accession process. Serbia and Kosovo have changed their constitutions: Kosovo to allow for the establishment of the Association/Community and Serbia to relinquish its territorial claim on Kosovo. Serbia also no longer objects to Kosovo’s membership in international organizations, including the UN. Serbia has not recognized Kosovo de jure, but Kosovo’s status is no longer a thorny issue in relations between the two. Some Serbian and Kosovan nationalist groups, however, sporadically use the status to score political points.

Scenario III: Traffic Jam

The 2021 normalization agreement left the status dispute unresolved. With the elephant still in the room, fourteen years later the parties are struggling to implement the half-pregnant deal. It is becoming clear that without a status solution, Serbia and Kosovo will neither be able to normalize their relations nor join the EU. After a number of failed attempts to conclude the conflict, the EU suspended its engagement as mediator and froze the integration process for Kosovo and Serbia. Serbia is yet to implement chapters 35 on Kosovo and 24 on the rule of law. Blocked by Spain, Kosovo has not been able to sign new agreements with the EU. Learning from the Cyprus case, Germany remains strongly against ‘importing’ new conflicts into the EU. Frustrated by the status quo and EU isolation, Kosovo is considering unifying with Albania. If this happens, Kosovo’s north has indicated it would join Serbia. Republika Srpska is considering splitting from Bosnia and Herzegovina as well. Albanians in Macedonia plan to follow suit. The international community remains against border changes, but with decreasing leverage and capacity to prevent it. Unless the EU offers alternatives and reengages in the region, conflict is inevitable. Facing uncertain political and economic prospects, a quarter of the populations of Kosovo and Serbia have emigrated, crippling their labour markets.

Scenario IV: Car Crash

The EU froze the enlargement process for Serbia and Kosovo, losing its main leverage with Belgrade and Pristina. With no EU membership prospects, Belgrade’s and Pristina’s readiness to negotiate diminished. The five EU non-recognizers and Serbia continued to oppose Kosovo’s independence. None of the Brussels agreements were fully implemented, while the parties continue to blame each other. Both, Kosovo and Serbia struggle with unemployment, partocracy and weak democracy. Opposition to nationalistic narratives is almost non-existent. Incidents in Serb-majority areas in Kosovo, particularly in the north of Kosovo, and the Presevo Valley occur frequently. With tensions high and only a few voices advocating a negotiated solution, a new war seems only a spark away.

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