European Union and the United States want to bring the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina to an end in a short period of time and for the two sides to conclude a final agreement on the normalisation of their relations. This process has been going on for more than ten years, and Russian aggression against Ukraine and its destructive influence on the entire European continent, especially on unresolved issues like Kosovo, undoubtedly contributed to its acceleration by Western mediators.
EU and the USA correctly assessed that further delaying the solution and maintaining the status quo suits Russian interests to destabilize Europe, and the post-conflict situation around Kosovo is an ideal opportunity for such a thing. Russia is trying to encourage escalation in the Balkans because it wants to ease its position in Ukraine, by shifting at least part of the West’s focus to another field. That is why speeding up problem resolution on the Pristina-Belgrade line is a very important response to Russia’s destructive ambitions.
A proposal is on the table that is usually said to be French-German, although there is no doubt that America also participated in its drafting. It is encouraging that neither Belgrade nor Pristina rejected it; moreover, they found positive aspects and focused on them.
The proposal envisages for Serbia to allow Kosovo the entry in international institutions and organisations, including the UN, and in return get accelerated admission to the EU, with significant financial support from the West. It is also important that Serbia would not be required to recognise Kosovo as an independent state.
This initiative has many similarities with the proposal for a final compromise, which the International Security Institute, I lead, drafted more than three years ago and sent to the governments of the EU member states, the US government, as well as the EU institutions. We cannot say we are not pleased that our suggestions are in the proposal that has the best chance of being implemented. But, on the other hand, it is regrettable that more than three years had to pass for an apparently well-designed initiative to be activated. Precious time was lost in solving a frozen conflict, and that loss is often the biggest risk factor in solving such problems.
That is why this moment is ideal to recall some of the most important solutions from our Institute’s proposal, especially those concerning the implementation of the future agreement, because we see that phase as important as the agreement itself.
If it really wants Belgrade and Pristina to sign a comprehensive and legally binding agreement soon, the EU should treat itself as part of that agreement, that is, as a third actor, which will provide the signatories with a clear motive to first make a compromise, and then to adhere to it in the future. Therefore, to be only an intermediary, which has been the case so far. They can only be motivated by a concrete, signed commitment that their strategic international priorities will be fulfilled, within precisely defined time frames. The agreement will be possible only if the negotiators make mutual concessions, but the same applies to the European Union, because it will benefit from the whole process. It is Europe that should provide compensation to Belgrade and Pristina for mutual concessions, which will certainly be painful and will need to be explained and implemented, each in their own country, and this will not be an easy task if there are no firm, signed European guarantees, which will provide content to the current platitude about the “European perspective”.
That’s why we suggested a possible path through the simultaneity of the agreement application and the activation of guarantees, which realise the strategic foreign policy priorities of Belgrade and Pristina. In the case of Serbia, this would mean full EU membership in two years from the signing of the agreement with Pristina, and in the case of Kosovo, admission to the UN and the start of negotiations on EU membership also in two years from the signing of the agreement with Belgrade.
The agreement would also enter into full force two years after signing (simultaneously with the guarantees), because in the meantime both Belgrade and Pristina should adapt their legislation to the newly agreed solutions, that is, complete the accession negotiations with the EU (Serbia) and carry out preparations for membership in the UN and the start of negotiations on membership in the EU (Kosovo). Such a solution would ensure mutual commitment of, on the one hand, the negotiating parties to implement what was agreed, and on the other hand, the EU and the most important members of the UN to fulfil their guarantees. As for the specific, mutual concessions of the two parties in the dialogue, they will move within the framework of the fundamental interests of the two parties, which are still diametrically opposed. As far as Serbia is concerned, it is the position of the Serbian community in Kosovo and its relationship with the authorities in Pristina, and when it comes to Kosovo, it’s the full international affirmation through membership in the UN and the acceleration of the path to the EU, including visa liberalisation.
A compromise solution could be found in the majority-Serb municipalities in the north of Kosovo receiving a special status within Kosovo, whereby their autonomy would contain the previous solutions, to which the possibility would be added that, as a whole, they would make special arrangements with Serbia, especially with regard to the financing of autonomous jurisdictions and investments. In other municipalities with a Serbian majority in Kosovo and Metohija, the provisions of the Brussels Agreement on the Community of Serb Municipalities would apply. Serbia would undertake not to interfere with Kosovo’s membership in the UN and other international organisations.
As for the EU, it would undertake to provide a special, massive, fund for financing projects in Serbia and Kosovo, which will encourage mutual ties, primarily in the area of infrastructure and free trade.
It is true that such solutions would deviate from the current EU enlargement model, but Brussels has already set similar precedents, when some current members, by political decision, drastically accelerated their path to membership. This was the case with Cyprus in 2004, Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, and Croatia in 2013, so accelerating Serbia’s accession would not be a novelty. This requires a political decision from Brussels, which knows very well that every previous precedent has brought incomparably more benefits to the Union and the newly arrived member than it has harmed its principles of enlargement, which are otherwise subject to review.
EU needs courage and political vision, which it has had countless times so far, but seemed to have forgotten them over time, preoccupied with inner struggles. The French-German plan can help in this, as well as its predecessor – the plan of our Institute on simultaneity for the implementation of the agreement. Thus, they will finally answer the long-asked questions of Serbian President Vučić – “How many European perspectives will we get?” and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Kurti – “Why is Kosovo the only one in Europe whose young people are isolated?”