Serbia: Prospect of EU Membership in Exchange for Giving up Kosovo?

Long-stalled Serbia–Kosovo dialogue, sponsored by the EU, could be unblocked next year if claims that there is a new EU plan, published in some media, are officially confirmed.

Talks on normalising relations between the two countries remain stagnant, and out of the handful of agreements signed, even less have been implemented. Over 11 years of talks, the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia has never been on the table.

Kosovo website, Albanian Post, reported that a new plan had been drafted on normalising relations after the engagement of German and French envoys.

According to the website, the plan envisages Belgrade accepting, without formally recognising, Kosovo’s independence, getting some financial benefits and the prospect of EU membership in return.

The same source said that in 10 years when the next batch of EU candidates are likely to join the union, a formal agreement on mutual recognition would be reached and activated before the whole region ascends.

That would entail recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the five EU countries that have not done so (Greece, Slovakia, Spain, Romania, and Cyprus), while Serbia would get “huge financial aid” and be recognised as the “leading power in the region”.

While the plan’s authenticity remains officially unconfirmed, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic recently said he has “read this paper but, knowing what was going to happen, refused to receive it” from the EU special envoy for the dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, as he visited Belgrade.

“I am experienced enough to know I was not to take that paper.”

During a debate on Kosovo in the Serbian parliament, Vucic said that during his term in office, i.e. in the next four and a half years, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008 would not be recognised, nor would it join the U.N.

Several days later, at the promotion of the youngest generation of Serbian Armed Forces officers in downtown Belgrade, Vucic said that “we will not give Kosovo or any other span of our fatherland to anyone.”

“Those who are threatening Serbia have never understood how great our resolve and determination is to guard what is ours,” said Vucic, without specifying who was threatening Belgrade and why he felt the need to reiterate that it would not relinquish Kosovo.

What also piqued public curiosity was that in a patriotic song performed during a break in the programme, the lyric about Kosovo as “the soul of Serbia” was replaced with the line “to all the heroes of Serbia”.

The song’s author said the Kosovo bit was removed at the request of the Ministry of Defence, which the ministry later denied, saying there were different versions of the same song.

The plan – a consequence of EU’s more intense engagement

Albanian Post wrote that the plan is “a new framework” stemming from the direct involvement of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the dialogue after the EU leadership apparently concluded that “Kosovo and Serbia will never be able to solve the problem on their own”.

To soften the blow – as Kosovo remains a highly sensitive issue in Serbia – in the first decade of the agreement’s implementation, Belgrade would not have to recognise it but just accept independence.

That would be enough for the plan’s authors, given that the issue of Serbia’s accession to the EU will not be on the agenda for some time.

However, this would entail Belgrade having to refrain from lobbying for the derecognition of Kosovo’s independence, as well as from opposing Pristina’s accession to international organisations.

That would enable Kosovo to join the Council of Europe, in the second phase, Interpol and UNESCO, then NATO and the EU, and finally the United Nations.

That UN membership would apparently be the most problematic because it does not depend solely on Belgrade but also on the position of Russia, as Moscow continues to express readiness to veto any such initiative.

For its part, Pristina would agree to enable forming the Association of Serb Municipalities at the end of the 10-year period, right before mutual recognition. The association would see the creation of a Serb structure in Kosovo, backed by Belgrade, something Pristina says goes against its constitution and has failed elsewhere, i.e. Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The plan allegedly also envisages a precise sequence of events in case Belgrade or Pristina do not accept the document, but those details have not been published.

No clear confirmation of the document’s authenticity

Although nearly all the parties mentioned in the article, aside from Pristina, have commented on the alleged document, its authenticity has never been confirmed or denied.

Media in Pristina, however, say that Kosovo journalist Baton Haxhiu, known for his close ties with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, is behind the article and the website. That is why the document is believed to be authentic.

The EU has declined to comment on the document, but political pundits have noticed that neither the document’s content nor authenticity has been denied.

The EU spokesman for foreign affairs and security policy, Peter Stano, has said that as a rule, the EU does not comment on alleged documents published by the media.

Asked about the alleged document, US Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill said his country backed the EU in its efforts to achieve a solution in the Belgrade–Pristina dialogue because that problem had been going on for too long and had to be solved.

Analysts without a clear position on options for implementing the supposed plan

There is no consensus among political analysts on both sides as to whether the document is authentic but even less so on whether its implementation is feasible, even though they all agree that for the first time in many years, there is a certain readiness in the international community to get the ball rolling.

Belgrade-based political analyst Dusan Janjic believes there are multiple documents in circulation. Vucic said that the West was preparing “a new reinforcement” for Kosovo precisely because he had seen one of those papers.

“The US is insisting on a new format, and this document definitely exists. The timing mentioned in that document completely fits the methodology of operation of the US administration,” said Janjic.

He said that if the document were not accepted and should the conflict continue, Washington would apply “plan B”, which entailed conflict management and destabilisation controlled by the US, after which Washington would impose a solution on both parties.

Former Serbian Minister for Kosovo,  Slobodan Samardzic, said the published document is not a working platform for a solution but rather a means of ramping up pressure on Belgrade.

“This is pressure based on a paper. This is a new phase on the same subject. There is nothing new, but what will happen if that story continues is new,” said Samardzic.

On the other hand, Kosovo’s former deputy foreign minister, Valon Murtezaj, believes the plan stands a slim chance of success because of, as he put it, “the destructiveness of Serbia,” which he considers “an unreliable party.”

According to him, one should not wait an entire decade for Kosovo’s recognition because Belgrade would use that period to lobby against Kosovo abroad.

Former Kosovo diplomat Lulzim Peci found some provisions of the supposed plan highly controversial and suspicious, particularly the suggestion that Serbia would be acknowledged as the political and economic leader.

“That terminology does not exist in contemporary legal acts because it entails the legalisation of hegemony and violation of the principle of international law of the equality of states… It looks more like a text for pleasing the sick egos of regional leaders who think they can become masters in others’ homes,” said Peci.

Perhaps the story’s most mysterious segment is Pristina’s behaviour, which has stayed completely silent on the subject. However, Prime Minister Albin Kurti is known as an advocate of Kosovo’s instant recognition as a condition for any talks with Belgrade.

Analysts believe this might indicate that the international community has sent him a signal that this is a serious plan and that it would not be politically wise for him to reject it even if it does not entirely suit him.