Maria Giulia Amadio Vicere (Istituto Affari Internazionali)
Enormous diplomatic efforts aimed at stabilizing the Kosovo-Serbia relations are proving effective. The European Union played a key role in the negotiations in recent years despite the fact that 5 out of 28 Member States do not recognize the Kosovo independence which was unilaterally declared in early 2008. The Serbian fears of irredentism have been shared by Slovakia and Romania (both with significant Hungarian minorities), by Spain (faced with the Catalan and Bask attempts for secession), as well as by Greece and Cyprus (faced with the secession of the northern part of Cyprus). In spite of this division, the EU politicians managed to coordinate the European Commission’s approach with those of the Member States and to smoothly negotiate with the Serbian as well as Kosovar side.
The foundations of this successful coordination were laid in the Lisbon Treaty which conferred the status of a legal entity upon the EU and therefore, in exceptional cases, the Union may conclude an association agreement without the consent of all Member States. Thus, it was possible to bypass the disagreement with Kosovo’s independence that was declared by the afore-mentioned countries, which did not, however, mean that the latter’s opinion was ignored. Additionally, all Member States have expressed their consent with the positive role of the EU as the mediator between Belgrade and Pristine and they clearly supported the EU negotiators’ efforts. All three parties, i.e. EU, Serbia, and Kosovo, agreed that the admission of both countries is a priority which is conditioned upon the normalization of their mutual relations. The results of the negotiation are reflected in the so-called Brussels Agreement signed in April 2013. The Agreement guaranteed a higher degree of autonomy to several regions in northern Kosovo that are predominantly inhabited by the Serbs, a step which at least formally helped solve the most burning issue.
The reward for the cooperation in negotiating the normalization of the Serbia-Kosovo relations came in the form of a greater EU openness in its accession talks with both states. Serbia has been granted the status of a candidate country in the summer of 2012 and Kosovo signed the Association Agreement in 2014. In conclusion, the EU diplomats have proven their shrewdness when they cautiously handled a sensitive topic and managed to evade direct disputes over the recognition of Kosovo’s independence while successfully linking the debate with the policy of EU enlargement. They managed to push both sides to agree on some important compromises while using the promise of the EU membership as a compelling incentive. The internal cooperation of the European Commission with the Member States has proven effective despite the fact that some states still do not recognize Kosovo as an independent entity. As a result, although many important compromises have been reached, the path to an ultimate solution is still very long.
(The study can be downloaded here)