Negotiations—including those at least semi behind-the-scenes—continue to take place in order to move forward on the Kosovo-Serbia question and what continues to be an understood impasse to eventual Serbian EU accession.
On Tuesday, Feb. 6, EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajcak was scheduled to meet with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, although concrete details of topics to be discussed—beyond the aforementioned impasse—were not revealed.
This meeting was set to take place in the wake of a majority vote in Serbian Parliament that approved a status report on Kosovo-Serbian relations and negotiations. The contents of the report easily gained this majority vote, nothing that a chief sticking point, the establishment of a Community of Serb Municipalities in North Kosovo, remains just that, as it simply has not been created and at this time does not appear be slated for the near term.
Likewise, the report noted that almost all other issues in Kosovo, including the rule of law and fair policing has been stunted with the government of Kosovo to blame.
With politicians on both sides noting the “very high level of tension” in Kosovo—and with still more reports of individual cases of violence against local ethnic Serbs hitting the Serb press—solving what in fact is a Kosovo-Serbia-EU-US-Russia-China impasse appears to be getting more difficult by the day. That said, Serbs who are pro-EU may be heartened by a quiet US push for a long-needed Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo—and this despite various headlines and apparently anti-Serb rhetoric in the West.
Only a week ago the US embassy in Pristina held meetings with Serb and Kosovo government officials to discuss the Community, although this idea has increasingly been labelled and “association.”
Moreover, in an op-ed cited by euroactive.com, Derek Chollet, counsellor of the US Department of State, argued that “the time for establishing the Association of Serbian Municipalities (ASM) is now.”
Unfortunately, the word “now” may still remain all that is agreed upon by the various sides. The current “high-tension” normality has been the status quo practically since the end of the war in Kosovo, reached a fever pitch in late 2022, with Kosovo demands that ethnic Serbs re-register IDs and license plates. That crisis resulted in Serbia putting troops on the “highest state of readiness” at the border, as well as a petition to KFOR to allow 1,000 Serb troops into Kosovo to protect ethnic Serbs there.
While Serbia’s request to KFOR was pure gamesmanship, the tension on the ground was not, and soon ethnic Serbs resigned en-masse from government jobs (and the police). Shortly thereafter, former police were arrested on terrorism charges, with the detention of Dejan Pantic resulting in protests and barricades in North Kosovo.
To put it mildly, none of the above has been overlooked by the EU. Or the US. Neither want to see further Russian or Chinese influence in Serbia, and likewise, a worst-case scenario would be a Balkan conflict to divert resources and attention from what is now a critical war in Ukraine.
Yet Serbia—and often Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic—has been typically cast as the villain in what is in fact a highly complex issue on the ground. The recognition of Kosovo as an independent state has been all but demanded by German and France (and hence the EU) for Serbia to have any hope of EU accession. And the EU has also made no secret that Serbia should join in on sanctions against Russia. Considering that the majority of all Serbs are reportedly still against recognition of Kosovo—and that Serbia has traditionally been energy-dependent on Moscow—Vucic has had very little room to manoeuvre.
Yet manoeuvre he has, quietly keeping doors to Moscow open (or somewhat open), and even in the wake of a visit by EU and US envoys determined to lay down the law, Vucic approximately a week ago made a show of meeting Bosnian Serb and nationalist loose cannon Miroslav Dodik to “brief” him on the West’s plans for the region.
And this is not the first time. Previously, Vucic has also made a show of sidling up to none-other than EU bad boy and Hungarian President Viktor Orban—doing so to emphasize that Serbia needs affordable energy (while in the meantime highlighting alleged US duplicity during the Kosovo war).
But maybe Vucic is making his point. Despite and end-of-January ultimatum on the part of the EU, which did threaten to end accession (and oddly kinda-sorta offered accession by 2030 should Serbia agree to all EU demands), the US—which has long been seen as a staunch ally of Kosovo Albanians—but again appears to be sincerely pushing pragmatism.
For while the 2030 accession game could be viewed as a shaky, long-term promise, the creation of the Community of Serb Municipalities—even if called an Association—is more of a carrot for now. Ethnic Serbs in Kosovo have increasingly pointed out local abuses, ranging from alleged daily harassment by police to potential security worries, but in fact the community promise dates back to at lest 2015, and this was seen as a key component to transforming relations between the two states.
Photo of Miroslav Lajcak (2016) (cropped).jpgInformal Meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers – GYMNICHEuropean External Action Service, Mrs. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice President of the Commission and Mr. Miroslav Lajcak, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovak Republicph halime sarragDate3 September 2016, 11:54SourcePRESS CONFERENCE 2016-09-03 Informal Meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers – GYMNICHAuthorEU2016 SKEU2016 SK, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.