European fear of Pristina

It seemed that the EU really woke up from a deep sleep and that it is determined to bring the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina to a successful end in a fairly short period of time.

First, Miroslav Lajčak said in September that it was “high time” for the dialogue to be successfully brought to an end, and recently Josep Borrell specified that months, not years, would pass before that finish. These optimistic announcements fit into the framework according to which the work should be done by April, when the one-year mandate of Miroslav Lajčak as the EU special envoy for the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina expires.

This pace suits Serbia, it has no internal reasons to obstruct the process, and it knows well that its faster movement towards the EU membership largely depends on resolving the Kosovo issue, which is the main state priority without equal. Since taking office half a year ago, Lajčak has received the full support of Belgrade and President Vučić for what he is doing, precisely because, after a number of years of vegetation, he has brought new energy to the Serbian-Albanian process.

Unfortunately, the just-completed Lajčak’s mini-tour in Pristina and Belgrade shows that the EU is still the old and timid lady, who does not have the strength to solve problems in its own backyard, let alone in the “rest of the world”. The actuality of the long-standing sting that the EU functions well only in ideal conditions, without crises and without turbulence, was also confirmed, because it is not capable of solving such things.

The arrival in Pristina and Belgrade was a test for Lajčak and his team, whether they will be able to resolve the knot on which the dialogue recently stopped and why several rounds of Brussels talks were postponed. The knot is, of course, an issue of the Union of Serbian Municipalities, which has been firmly tied for seven years, and the EU, in fear of reactions from Pristina, is circling around it. Aware that he could not announce the imminent end of the negotiations, and to leave the issue of the Union of Serbian Municipalities aside at the same time, Lajčak headed to the Balkans after a long gathering of courage. He chose a strategy that is more suitable for Serbian negotiators from ten years ago (transparent and dilettante), than for a top European diplomat who needs to solve a very serious problem.

In fact, he was saying one thing in Pristina, and quite another in Belgrade, probably in the hope that the problem would somehow clear up on its own, or at least that he would be able to discuss it more seriously in Brussels, behind closed doors, in a new round of dialogue he actually scheduled. He favored Hoti and his people, saying that the Union of Serbian Municipalities would be formed only after the final agreement, which was music to their ears. Because in Pristina, they are convinced that the first point of the future agreement will be the mutual recognition of Serbia and Kosovo, or there will be no “deal” at all. In other words, they hope that the agreement will confirm Kosovo’s independence, through recognition by Serbia, and as far as the Union of Serbian Municipalities is concerned, they will probably never have to form it, just as they have not done in the past seven years. Lajčak gave them the full right to think that way. Arriving in Belgrade, however, the Slovak diplomat repeated what they expect to hear in Serbia, which is that everything that was signed earlier must be applied, including the formation of the Union of Serbian Municipalities.

The European Union, once with Federica Mogherini, and today with Lajčak, does not want to confront the government in Pristina, regardless of who leads it and regardless of what makes it difficult to reach a compromise. Lajčak’s warning that the opinion of the Kosovo Constitutional Court from 2015 must be taken into account with the Union of Serbian Municipalities directly sabotages any progress and reaching an agreement. Because it is impossible to expect that the future agreement will leave the legal order of both Serbia and Kosovo as it is now – that Kosovo is an inalienable part of Serbia, i.e. that Kosovo is a state in which the position of the Serbian community is regulated by the Constitution derived from Ahtisaari’s plan. Why were the years spent and why did the negotiation process start at all, if its result will be the legal status quo? What would Lajčak do if he received a similar “threat” from Belgrade – that all future solutions must be in accordance with the Constitution of Serbia? Clearly, there would be no negotiations. Or the EU would put enormous pressure on Serbia to change its position.

The trouble is that the EU, not even Lajčak, do not want, nor do they have the strength to finally disaccustom Pristina from the constant, long-term sabotage of negotiations. They did not want to do that when taxes on goods from Serbia were introduced, or when they threatened to leave the negotiations (Kurti’s government), or when they postponed talks in Brussels countless times due to internal political turmoil. They were always punished and returned to the talks thanks to the Americans, not the Europeans.

In the latest episode, Europe is demonstrating its traditional futility and inability to sustain negotiations on the track that leads to success. It can do that only if it decisively stops the political trickery of Pristina, but as time passes, there is less and less hope that it is capable of such a thing. Moreover, it shows more and more convincingly that reaching a true compromise is not a priority, but that the goal is to put an end on the situation from 2008, and that is (according to its most influential member, Germany) unquestionable Kosovo independence, which Serbia should now accept. If the optimism of Lajčak and Borrell that an agreement will be reached soon is built on such an outcome, then such hopes are in vain.