Petar Stamenković
15.10.2017.

Serbia and Kosovo in the EU: Obstacles and Achievements

Following the declaration of the independence of Kosovo, relations in the region rapidly deteriorated focusing policy towards the next conflict. After uninspired negotiations between Belgrade and Prishtina, the independence of Kosovo ushered itself as the only viable alternative. Finally, the 2007 Ahtisaari Plan put a halt to the passivity to resolve the Kosovo issue anticipating the creation of an independent state of Kosovo.


After the democratic revolution in 2000, Serbia has officially changed the course of its foreign policy and set the membership in the European Union (EU) as one of its priority goals. This membership, however, has shown to be a road through a lengthy and misty path of reforms. Only a few years ago, Serbia’s EU integration was mostly contingent upon its (non)cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In return, Serbia became a country candidate for EU accession only in March 2012. Now, before becoming a full member, Serbia must go through a lengthy process of negotiations which include the official resolution of the Kosovo status from Chapter 35. In this Chapter, Serbia pledges, inter alia, not to block Kosovo’s accession to the EU. In addition, Chapter 35 stipulates Serbia should refrain from blocking the participation of Kosovo in regional organizations that are important both for the faster integration with the EU and for Kosovo public, primarily, its economy. Here, it is important to underline that the process of Serbia’s EU accession overlaps with the process of normalization of its relations with Kosovo. Therefore, full normalization of relations with Kosovo is being achieved through negotiations on EU membership bringing both Serbia and Kosovo to the ultimate and identical goal: a common European future.

EU integration has been a key goal for Kosovo even since the proclamation of its independence. In addition to the pending general reforms, Kosovo’s integration into the EU system imply resolving a set of broader political problems, including its non-recognition by all EU member states. The current ideas behind the integration process are focused on resolving the issue of dialogue with Serbia and the issue of visa liberalization, whereas the issue of statehood would be discussed at the later stage during the accession negotiations. The signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) in 2015 has set contractual relations with the EU for the first time. However, the lack of political will and weak and ineffective institutional cooperation still undermine the capacity of Kosovo to deal with the reforms arising from its SAA contractual obligations. The visa liberalization which would have enabled Kosovo the entry into the Schengen zone has been obstructed by deep internal political divisions and polarization. Institutional incompetence, the system drowning in structural public problems, and the failure to ratify the agreement on demarcation with Montenegro on time, mirror the poor state of Kosovo public.

The UN Security Council Resolution 64/298 from March 2011 set the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo under the EU auspices in the shape of the so called Brussels Dialogue. The complexity of political and historical circumstances have set the process of dialogue in milestones. Today’s dialogue is in many ways conducted frequently neglecting social, political and security settings whereas the lack of transparency presents one of its biggest flaws. So far, the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština serves as a successful framework where many practical issues that are important to citizens are being resolved, such as: freedom of movement, the validity of ID cards, border issues, registry records, university diplomas, etc. Politicized issues create two poles where individual interests are marginalized within the dialogue. The stalemate moves once the proverbial Big Brother starts threatening whereupon political decision-makers skillfully transform their beliefs into systems of mutual benefit.

The dialogue has resolved many issues. Some of them have been resolved even without entering into hardcore urgings of public opinion on any side. The freedom of movement, one of the fundamental issues which implied the use of Kosovo identity cards, driver’s licenses, and insurance, has been resolved at the beginning of the dialogue. On the other side, politicians in Serbia had to convince their public that the agreement on the issue of border control does not mean recognition of the borders. In that sense, the word “boundary” was used to describe administrative borders in Serbia and the word “border” to describe the border in Kosovo. Serbia meant to use the signing of this agreement to reduce smuggling and unregistered traffic of goods, including another no less important reason: to increase their own revenues from taxes and customs duties.

The controversial issue of the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) in northern Kosovo incited the breaking of dialogue. The political elites called for an early election to divert attention from the concrete and tangible problems that have prevailed in Kosovo public. The election campaign, marked by nationalism, polarized the system even more. The system is currently unready to solve problems or think about its European future.

In this year, dialogue was called into question several times because of sporadic incidents. The train headed from Serbia, painted in national colors and labeled with “Kosovo is Serbia” in 20 languages, was a deliberate diversion of policy which has been nearing a way out up to that point. Another event that disrupted the relations occurred when the French police arrested Ramush Haradinaj after Serbian arrest warrant. Kosovo side bitterly protested against such an act announcing the interruption of dialogue.

The political climate in Serbia is focused on internal dialogue, but it represents proclaimed goals without a clear vision of expectations from the process. On the other hand, the unstable political situation that is further exacerbated by the announced formation of the army in Kosovo suggests that the final solution is not in sight. Anticipated involvement of the US in the future dialogue will not necessarily improve the position of either side in the process. I believe that as long as the EU holds the potential to control the dialogue process using the “carrot and stick” shtick, the dialogue will continue to  move in the right direction.

Photo: European Western Balkans, europeanwesternbalkans.com

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