By: Lulzim Peci
After a number of efforts by the EU and the United States, the Kosovo – Serbia dialogue is expected to resume in the next month. The US – EU rapprochement with President Biden’s mantra “America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back,” and the security challenges posed by Russia and the China in the Western Balkans, have created a new momentum that may lead to a comprehensive and a long-lasting solution of the disputes between the two countries.
Nevertheless, there are still a number of differences that have to be bridged between Brussels and Washington on this issue. There is no doubt that the most important of them is how these two most important international stakeholders view the end-game of the dialogue. The position of Brussels still remains ambiguous by aiming for a legally binding comprehensive agreement, whereas Washington prefers mutual recognition by Kosovo and Serbia.
Furthermore, the European Union has largely lost its influence on Kosovo, due to its failure to lift visas for Kosovar citizens, regardless the fact that in the last three years the EU Commission has repeatedly stated that Kosovo has fulfilled all conditions. This reluctance also affects Serbia, since rightly it may assume that Brussels will not deliver in terms of further integration of the country into the EU, even if it achieves an agreement with Kosovo, which further complicates the circumstances of the dialogue.
Until recently, Prime Minister Kurti has been resistant to consider in public the dialogue with Serbia as a high priority, but the very fact that he has tasked the first Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi with the portfolio of the European Integrations and the Dialogue tells that something else is the reality. Furthermore, Kurti has started to build the team of domestic and international advisers for the dialogue with Serbia.
On the other hand, President Vucic has repeatedly accused Kosovo for sabotaging the dialogue, and has shown publicly his will for its continuation, but everyone who is familiar with the politics in the region knows very well that there is a high probability that he will not be willing to achieve an agreement prior to the next presidential elections in Serbia scheduled to take place in the spring of next year. Thus, it is unrealistic to expect that the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia will lead to a major breakthrough during the current year.
Another important development, which may affect the progress of the dialogue, is the Russian military build-up with more than 100,000 troops at the border with Ukraine that at any time can invade a part of the country, either from the direction of Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. This may divert the attention of the Trans-Atlantic allies from the dialogue, while at the same time it will be much more difficult for Vucic to de-embrace himself from Putin, whose interest by all means is that a long-lasting agreement between Kosovo and Serbia is not achieved at all, which will block their perspective for getting closer to Brussels and will weaken the West in its backyard.
During the upcoming period, Prishtina and Belgrade should first and foremost define and agree on all the components of a comprehensive and long-lasting agreement on the normalisation of their relations. However, this will not be sufficient for their integration into the West. There is also the hard work to be done by the Trans-Atlantic allies in order to accompany a possible agreement with an unimpeded path of integration of Kosovo to NATO and the European Union and economic empowerment of both countries based on the framework of the Washington Agreement of September 4th, 2020, which will also bring into life the Four European Freedoms in the Western Balkans.
Kosovo and Serbia should use this window of opportunity to transform their relations from the current circumstances of the Cold Peace to those of Normal Peace, when the possibility of emerging of conflicts between them will become highly unimaginable. The real choice that has to be made in this dialogue by the parties is either to live under the circumstances of the crocodile and scorpion fable, or to consider each other as future allies under the framework of the European Union. Time does not heal all wounds from the past, but the deeds of mature people and statesman can help curing most of them.
Lulzim Peci was born in Pristina in 1966, where he attended primary and secondary school. He holds a Bachelor degree from the University of Pristina’s Technical Faculty, a Master degree in International Relations from the Ortega y Gasset University Institute in Madrid, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of South-Eastern Europe in Macedonia. Peci is the Executive Director of the Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED).
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