Brussels is with you again – the heads of diplomacy of France and Germany, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Heiko Maas pompously announced, asking Belgrade and Pristina to return to dialogue immediately. The corona virus epidemic is over, the consolidation of European institutions is over, and the time is right to continue negotiations. It can be said that this is great news from the two most influential European diplomats, which instills confidence that things regarding Kosovo are returning to the good, old ways of negotiating. But only at first glance. Because, everything would be true if the world had stood still for the past year, and with it the unresolved Kosovo issue, waiting for the Europeans to announce the end of that break. What is the problem with the latest, joint “message” of Berlin and Paris addressed to Belgrade and Pristina?
The main problem in the German-French call for the continuation of the dialogue is its delay, more precisely its inconsistency with the new reality, which followed after Brussels isolated itself from this process, at least a year ago. Exactly one year ago, in April, France and Germany tried to breathe air into the already dead dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, organizing a summit of Balkan leaders with Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron. Even this “heavy artillery” failed to reactivate the process, for the simple reason that it was not realistic at all – Europeans immediately entered the elections for the EU Parliament, the institutions in Brussels took months to constitute, and on top of all that, neither the two most powerful European politicians then, nor later, succeeded (wanted) in forcing the government in Pristina to abolish 100% taxes on goods from Serbia.
Even today, a year later, when Ministers Maas and Le Drian try to give the impression that they have hit the table with their fists, we do not notice a change in the somewhat autistic European position in relation to the Kosovo issue, especially when it comes to famous taxes on goods from Serbia. They welcome Pristina’s decision to suspend these taxes, but in the same sentence they expect Serbia to “provide its contribution”!? It is in this European search for a balance of responsibility between Pristina and Belgrade, a standstill, why not the failure of the previous dialogue, its weakest and even tragic point is found.
Although it declaratively demanded that Pristina abolish taxes, the EU, and especially France and Germany, essentially encouraged Pristina, first Haradinaj, and then Kurti, not to abolish this unheard-of measure, in order to maintain the means of pressure on Belgrade. They continue to do that even today, with the attitude that Belgrade should make some concession, because Pristina, for God’s sake, abolished taxes. This hypocritical game of the EU, and above all Germany, has never impressed Vučić and official Belgrade, so it is not realistic for that to happen now. On the contrary, with this position, the EU is again declaring itself as an unreliable mediator in the dialogue, someone who would rather keep silent about the rage of a spoiled child in class, and ask a calm and disciplined student to keep quiet, rather than reprimanding and expelling the spoiled one.
The French and German ministers are quite right when they say – it is high time to restart the dialogue. But how can we take them seriously when they link such a strong position to the fact that Miroslav Lajčak has taken over the duty of the EU envoy for the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina? Should we conclude that the dialogue was dead because the EU has not had a special envoy so far? Does anyone in Belgrade, in Pristina, in Europe really believe that things will now go fast towards the desired goal just because Lajčak stepped on the stage?!
It is a bit comical when European ministers emphatically use “strong” vocabulary, addressing the audience through the Belgrade and Pristina press. Europeans are not convincing when they say words like “we are looking for momentarily”, “it is high time”, “there are no shortcuts and quick solutions”… This style is typical of someone else, because that someone else, when using strong words, then you are sure they will be followed by strong action.
Of course, it’s about the Americans. It is about their taking on a central role in resolving disputes on the Belgrade-Pristina line, which followed precisely because of the inability of Europeans to bring results. Articles by the French and German ministers are strong evidence that Europeans are aware that they have been set aside, so now they are trying to return to the center of the scene. Their attempt is delayed, because things regarding Kosovo changed a lot while Europeans were chasing seats in the parliament in Brussels and while for months, only personnel commissions from all EU institutions worked to fill new positions in the administration.
America has unmistakably understood that the Pristina taxes are the point that destroyed the dialogue. America, not France and Germany, put real pressure on Pristina to abolish them, and it did not stop there, even when the price was the fall of the Kosovo government. America’s focus on finding solutions is complete. While European ministers are celebrating Lajčak’s arrival as a key moment for the resumption of dialogue, America has long had two experienced and influential diplomats in full swing, working to reach a solution. As Europeans regrouped, elected and appointed to new positions, Richard Grenell brought Belgrade and Pristina to two very important agreements without any overconfidence, first on the continuation of air traffic, and then, in February in Munich, on the continuation of railway links and construction of the Belgrade-Pristina highway. In the meantime, he responded with undiminished force to any attempt by Pristina to evade the abolition of taxes, and especially to condition them with reciprocity towards Serbia. After all, the government of Albin Kurti fell on that issue, because he is a man who naively thought that taxes towards Serbia were a sustainable policy, and in which he was undoubtedly supported by European centers. France and Germany were the main supporters of the policy of preserving taxes, and thus directly responsible for the one-and-a-half-year blockade of the dialogue, the renewal of which they are now aggressively seeking. For them, it is quite bearable that the taxes were suspended conditionally, with reciprocity towards Serbia and with a one-month review of the decisions made, unlike the United States, which from the very beginning did not accept anything less than a complete and unconditional withdrawal of these unprecedented measures.
Finally, American mediation, which sometimes really looks like “bulldozer diplomacy”, differs fundamentally from European mediation not only in the pace at which it goes, but also in the character of the final goal. The United States really wants to come up with a solution that will make both sides equally satisfied or equally dissatisfied. From the current attitude towards the Kosovo problem, it is difficult to say that the EU has the same projection. With its moves so far, America has proved that it does not want one side (in this case Serbia) to leave the negotiations as humiliated. It entered the mediation with the idea of a compromise, and a quick one, while Europe continues to talk about a “comprehensive and legally binding agreement”, no matter how long it takes to reach it. In fact, it is about the Serbian recognition of the state of Kosovo, within the already existing borders, and Germany and France do not hide that when they say that they oppose the change of borders and the possible division of the territory of Kosovo.
The dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, the renewal of which the French and German ministers are seeking, has already, in fact, been renewed. The moment America joined. It is not in the form in which it took place in Brussels for years, nor will it ever be renewed in such a way, because it has proven to be slow and inefficient. Things are moving regardless of whether the EU has a special envoy or not. Europe will certainly have a share in the final agreement, and a role in its implementation, because it is the framework in which both Serbia and Kosovo will continue to live and whose full involvement they strive for. But the road to a solution will, without a doubt, be led by America. It clearly showed that with its determination so far, just as the French and German ministers confirmed that Europe has not yet learned lessons from the previous Kosovo odyssey. And I will remind Maas and Le Drian of the words of two great statesmen from their countries, de Gaulle and Adenauer.
De Gaulle said: “Politics is worth nothing outside of reality” and Konrad Adenauer that “we all live under the same sky, but do not have the same horizon”.