"EU has nothing to offer to Serbia"

Timothy Less, a researcher at the Cambridge University Geopolitical Forum and a former diplomat in the Balkans, doesn't expect progress in resolving Kosovo knot

Source: Tanjug
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Ilustracija: Deposit photos/Yarr65
Ilustracija: Deposit photos/Yarr65

Ahead of today's meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti under the auspices of the EU in Brussels, Less says that he expects the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina to continue for a while, but emphasizes that he does not expect progress in resolving the Kosovo problem.

The EU initiative, he says, will not bring progress because Europeans who want to solve the Kosovo problem at the same time reject the only realistic compromise solution - division in exchange for recognition.

"The only alternative they offer is theoretical membership in the EU, which Aleksandar Vucic said, with some justification, that it is not enough. No matter what the European intentions are, taking over the dialogue from them will ensure only that, when there is no solution, at least when it comes to a solution that will be negotiated," Less told Tanjug.

He adds that there is not much that the EU can offer to Serbia, and that is a big part of the problem.

If Germany and others reject the idea of adjusting the borders, the only alternative would be urgent membership in the EU, which could, he believes, change the entire political context of this problem, but he is skeptical that it will really happen.

Because, as he says, France and other European countries do not want to let Serbia, Kosovo or any other part of the Balkans into the EU until they are sure that these countries are ready, in other words, until they meet thousands of strict conditions for entry and show that are stable and prosperous democracies.

"In other words, the European initiative to solve the Kosovo problem is likely to get stuck right where it got stuck in the last decade, excluding any solution other than one in which Serbia recognizes Kosovo in exchange for a promise of eventual EU accession," Less said.

He sees Germany as the biggest obstacle to reaching an agreement, and when asked if it would be possible to change Brussels' position on a compromise solution that would take into account Serbian interests, Less answered that it is theoretically possible, given that European politicians have different views on this question, but it's hard to believe that it will happen.

"In the past, both Emmanuel Macron and Sebastian Kurz, along with others, have stated that if Serbs and Albanians agree to solve the Kosovo problem by moving the borders, they will not stand in the way. Josep Borrell said the same thing recently," Less recalls.

He adds that it is strange when, over the years, European leaders demand a solution to the Kosovo problem, and when Serbia and Kosovo agreed with the outlines of the solution, Angela Merkel and some others blocked that solution because they do not like it.

"In the long run, this is neither a credible nor a sustainable position. The precondition for resuming negotiations in continuity is probably Merkel's departure and her replacement with a more pragmatic leader, which will not happen until next year at the earliest," Less said, noting that this is not any guarantee either.

Less reiterates that Germany believes that the partition of Kosovo would open the mythical Pandora's box - in other words, the partition of Kosovo would be the trigger for the collapse of Bosnia, because Bosnian Serbs only lack a precedent that would serve as a justification for achieving their goal of partitioning Bosnia. it makes no sense, he says, for three reasons.

He is the first to state that Bosnia, he says, is not sticking together because of the lack of precedent, but because as long as Serbs risk punishment for disbanding Bosnia, they will not do so, and the second is that the partition of Kosovo does not set any precedent. According to him, foreign powers have divided the Balkans for decades, and the last time was in 1999, when the United States, supported, among others, by Germany, agreed on the division of Serbia.

"If developments in Kosovo serve as any kind of trigger for the disintegration of Bosnia, it will not be because of Kosovo's division, but because of the officialization of Kosovo's independence, which will anger the Serbian public who will demand compensation for it. Realistically, it can only be the Republic of Srpska, a territory of similar size with the Serb population," Less said.

He adds that in other words, if Germany wants to freeze Bosnia in its current form, and then North Macedonia - the best thing it can do is insist on freezing the Serbian-Kosovo problem.

Asked how he sees the role of the United States in resolving the Kosovo problem at the moment, whether a new move by Richard Grenell can be expected and whether he believes in a common EU approach about the final solution, Less said that Europeans really do not want Americans to get involved in these talks, at least as long as Donald Trump stays in the White House.

"Richard Grenell's recent comments suggest that the United States will now leave the leading role to the Europeans. I think Grenell was relieved that he handed over this task, with a feeling of disappointment because he failed to reach an agreement and the objection that the Europeans managed to oust the Americans."

However, he adds that this will not be the end of American involvement, if the Europeans fail, as he expects, to solve the Kosovo problem.

"Events related to Kosovo follow a well-known practice from the post-Yugoslav period when Europeans claimed to have a solution to the problem, told Americans not to interfere, and ultimately failed to reach a solution as things on the ground worsened. We saw the 1990s when Europeans said they would end the wars, but they didn't, and in 2000, when Europeans said they would stabilize the Balkans by integrating it into the EU, they didn't".

In that context, he says, it is logical to be skeptical of European claims that they can solve the Kosovo problem, especially since they do not have any credible solution to offer.

"I think there will now be a period of deadlock in which Europeans will try again to persuade Serbia to recognize Kosovo within the existing borders with the promise of eventual EU membership. In the meantime, the situation in the region, in Serbia and Kosovo, but also in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia, to become more unstable. The locals will work with the Russians, Chinese and Turks to help them with various problems. And the EU will dive deeper into its internal crisis," he said.

The consequences will be such that, when the United States eventually returns, it will have to resolve not only the burdensome issue of where the borders between Serbs and Albanians will be set in Kosovo, but a wider set of problems that will cover the entire Balkan region.

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