The legitimacy of the West in the Western Balkans could depend on the success of the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue

Stefan Vladisavljev

April 2023

Subsequent to the diplomatic endeavor undertaken by the transatlantic allies spearheaded by the European Union and the United States envoys, the Franco-German proposal set forth was intended to serve as a pivotal juncture in the process of normalization of the relations between Serbia and Kosovo. However, following the conclusion of the Ohrid meeting and the pronouncement of the initiation of the implementation phase, the situation appears to have regressed to a state direr than the one that existed before the agreement was accepted by Belgrade and Prishtina.

The ongoing endeavor to address the normalization process and attain a mutually acceptable and sustainable agreement between the two opposing sides has been instigated by the international community and not by the regional actors themselves. The rationale behind the renewed impetus in the dialogue process is multifaceted, ranging from the prevailing geopolitical landscape to the prolonged stasis in the established process and execution of the Brussels agreement.

Considering this, it is evident that the anticipated outcomes in the immediate aftermath of the implementation’s inception have been insufficient. One possible explanation for such a development is that, currently, the implementation has been conceived as two distinct processes – with each party assuming responsibility for the implementation of the agreement independently, under the umbrella of the EU oversight. Although this approach is logical to some extent, it poses difficulties in terms of monitoring and evaluating the implementation timeline, given that not all articles pertain to both parties. Additionally, it is not uncommon for agreements of this nature to contain elements of the implementation process that each party may find unsatisfactory. Therefore, the missteps in the initial phase of implementation are unfortunate, but not surprising.

While the representatives of the EU and the USA took the stage and proclaimed agreement accepted, mixed signals came from the Serbian representatives who highlighted that nothing was signed and that only the steps of implementation were agreed upon, but that is yet to be seen what the results will be. That stance led towards several acts that can be seen as a breach of the agreement, including the withdrawal of the representatives of the Serbian community from the local elections held in Kosovo in an attempt to de-legitimize the process. Furthermore, voted against the beginning of the procedure of Kosovo becoming a member of the Council of Europe, which is in direct conflict with the article of the European agreement on the normalization process and the fact that Serbia should refrain from any attempts to prevent Kosovo to become a member of international organizations. On the other side, Pristina representatives have still not started any process on the establishment of the self-government mechanisms for the Serb community which was presented as a red line for Belgrade and a prerequisite for any further compromises within the normalization process.

As we approach the end of April, it can be concluded that the newly established framework for the implementation process has not produced any specific results. Instead, we are witnessing a continued deterioration of relations and a rise of tensions, both on a diplomatic level and on the ground.

Although hesitance to follow through with the agreement’s implementation was to be expected, failure to make positive developments could result in a loss of trust in the EU, and to some extent, the US regarding their ability to guarantee the implementation of the agreement.

The prospect of Kosovo’s European future is inextricably linked to the success of the normalization process, a fact that cannot be ignored. The United States’ current investment in the process further underscores the importance of moving forward, as failure to do so could jeopardize the long-term partnership between Washington and Prishtina.

Institutionally, Serbia’s European future is now tied to the normalization process, with the agreement becoming a part of the negotiating chapter 35 of the EU accession. For Serbia, a lack of commitment to the normalization process translates to an official lack of commitment to EU membership.

The normalization process represents a crucial step in solidifying lasting peace and stability in the region. It is imperative that all parties involved demonstrate their commitment to the process and work towards its successful implementation. Failure to do so would not only jeopardize the prospect of EU membership for Serbia and Kosovo but would also have far-reaching implications for the future of the Balkan region as a whole. It could also lead to the definite delegitimization of the actors and the values pushing the region towards the European community, and potentially push some of the regional countries even closer to the partners from the East.

This op-ed is supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pristina.
The opinions are of the author and do not reflect the views of the Balkans Policy Research Group and the donor.