The implementation of the first Brussels Agreement (reached in April 2013) has considerably slowed down. Thusly, this questions the very purpose of the deal, whose aim has been to set relations between Serbia and Kosovo on a track towards normalization. The former EU Higher Representative, Lady Catherine Ashton, has brought together the prime ministers of the two countries almost two-dozen times, but this has hardly improved overall relations. The EU mediators have consciously used ambiguity to create a modicum of cooperation, and this momentum has certainly had a positive effect. An agreement was struck and parts of it have been implemented, but these implementations have lost momentum in this election-rife year of 2014.
The first agreement was a good start, but a new impetus is needed to produce meaningful results that can improve everyday life, as well as promote further rapprochement. The current moment may not be the most auspicious time, due to the constitutional deadlock in Prishtina and the EU’s weakened leverage on both capitals. The EU’s leverage over Serbia has weakened, because the opening of chapters will not mobilize the Serbian leadership and public the way that candidate status and negotiations did. Similarly, Prishtina does not see its EU approximation as credible, since its path has to be ratified by the five non-recognizing members states.
Despite these difficulties, there are a few major reasons the new High Representative, Frederica Mogherini, should see this as a high priority: there is already a strong basis to build upon, Europe is not the same in 2014, and concluding this peace project will significantly boost their power projects on the eastern front. Ms. Mogherini should aim to revive the negotiation process, during her term in office, and influence both sides towards successful implementations, which allow both states to aim for significantly more ambitious paths towards normalization. Excluding the geo-strategic agenda, which usefully serves the post-Crimean Europe, it would also contribute to a stronger Europe with a prosperous Balkans in its midst.
To reach the second milestone in the dialogue process, the new HR should use some of the tools it has effectively used in the past, and draw lessons from some others. Conditionality has proved to be very effective, and the EU should continue using it. Ambiguity should not be used as a technique to portray proximity for it no longer serves the purpose.
Before Serbia and Kosovo embark on true paths towards normalization, they must close the current chapter and implement everything they have agreed upon. In this regard, it is key, for the Serbian community in Kosovo, that the Association of Kosovo Serb Municipalities is established. Meanwhile, for Prishtina, it is key to close the agreement on justice and integrate members of the civilian defense into Kosovo’s institutions. It is key that these issues are addressed, for Prishtina and the Kosovo Serb community to feel confident about the next steps. Only then can the Serb community integrate more fully within the new institutions.
Once the implementations are complete, the EU’s improved credibility will allow it to broaden the scope of Serbia-Kosovo talks, and pursue the milestone of “everything except recognition” (e.g. broach transport links, bank savings, internet domain, etc.), and, thus, be drawn into a constant dialogue that would serve as a basis for full normalization of relations. Unlike the previous period, when ambiguity served a purpose, rapprochement must now be real.
The vehicle to serve the objectives above is a three-track approach: 1) formal cooperation between Prishtina and the northern municipalities, supported by the EU Office in Kosovo; 2) Belgrade-Prishtina talks on a technical level that discuss the implementations to be continued; and, 3) Belgrade-Prishtina talks on tackling new issues should be insisted upon and opened. Mogherini and the EEAS have a chance at closing a chapter that will, not only, pacify the Balkans, but also bolster Europe’s power when it’s needed most.
See also full text of the policy paper Mogherini’s Chance for True Rapprochement between Serbia and Kosovo published by the Central European Policy Institute in Bratislava (CEPI).