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Ulrike Lunacek (MEP) on EU-Vision and EU-Policy to overcome Balkan Ghosts: Kosovo - Serbia: will they ever come to terms and prosperous co-existence?

15th March 2012

Since 2009 Ulrike Lunacek is a Member of the European Parliament from Austria for the Greens/EFA Group. She is Foreign Affairs Spokesperson for her Group and the European Parliament's Rapporteur for Kosovo.

„The cause of the problem in Ireland is that the Irish will never forget and the British will never remember“. This quote from William Ewart Gladstone, four-times Liberal prime minister of Great Britain in the 19th century, is sometimes mentioned when discussing the permanently ongoing rivalry between Kosovo and Serbia. This reference to the „everlasting“ Irish-British conflict and to the difficulty of changing national narratives often sounds like an excuse for the political struggles and problems on the Western Balkans: Look, it takes a lot of time to overcome such obstacles created by the past and steamed up by bad memories on war and war-crimes; and it takes a lot of time to create forward -looking narratives which make citizens switch from the victim-mode to the actor/agent-of-change-mode.

It is true what Nora V. Weller, an expert in post-conflict reconciliation, arms control and reconciliation with long experience in the Western Balkans, stated in her article about “The Failure to Face the Past in Relation to Kosovo”: „Managing memory has always been a hallmark of societies from the dawn of history.“ And Weller explains her experience with Kosovo and Serbia: „Each community sticks to its own memories and myths. Seen from the international perspective, this fact must be rather concerning, as the famous Balkan ghosts have been definitely not been laid to rest, either through national or international action.“ For her – and I agree – the only hope in this respect lies in the process of European integration, and the normalisation and harmonisation of relations among the peoples of the region that it may encourage: „The soft power of the EU may gradually have an impact on transforming public and private memories that have, in the past, tended to point ultimateley towards war.“

The process of EU-mediated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia (officially only referred to by their capitals' names) is a good example of this transformative soft EU-power.

The European Council on March 2nd, 2012 has just granted Serbia candidate status – after postponing the decision in December 2011 because Serbia simply had not shown enough will to progress in the EU-mediated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia and had not implemented the agreements in due way. For the start of accession negotiations, however, Serbia still needs to show more political will towards independent Kosovo, and the dialogue will continue, on issues like telekom and energy, after the Serb parliamentary elections.

 In comparison to other Ex-Yugoslav-States Kosovo is far behind in everything: be it visa liberalization (it's the only Western Balkan country whose citizens may not yet travel without visas to the EU, whereas all others have this right since the end of 2011), be it contractual relations with the EU (the start for a trade agreement was only given in December 2011, and now the Commission will devise a feasibility study for a Stabilization and Association Agreement; economically, investment is low, and (youth) unemployment rate high.

Understandably there is disappointment and frustration among Kosovar citizens that four years after independence still Kosovo is not a fully-fledged independent republic.

Five EU member states have not recognised yet, still Kosovo is not yet a full member of the United Nations (when writing these lines 88 states have recognised, still less than 50% of UN member states), and still Kosovo can, among other things, not participate in international sport events. Nevertheless I have appealed to Kosovo citizens to make use of what is in the dialogue agreement – namely that Kosovo is to participate, speak and sign on its own account in regional organisations – and interpret it their way, not the way Belgrade is interpreting it. For example, applying for membership at OSCE, which can be regarded as a “regional organisation”, would be a possibility to use a broad interpretative frame.

Because definitely, the time for wasting energy, time and money because of Kosovo's declaration of independence four years ago should once and for all be over: The European Union's largest civilian mission EULEX has to act “status-neutral” (for example, judges decide themselves which law is applicable – ex-yugoslav-law, UNMIK-law or Kosovo-law – clarity can only be found if political will is there, otherwise, this situation gives way to all kinds of problems) - and can therefore not fulfil completely what it was created for. The situation in the North of Kosovo, threatening the livelihoods of citizens, must end.

The most annoying part of this “diplomatic stalemate” is that none of the five non-recognizers do so because of concern for Serbs in Kosovo or for Serbia. They pretend to be concerned about violation of international law – and do not want to understand that the ICJ in 2010 has ruled that   the declaration of independence was not a violation of international law. In reality it is domestic political games and fear of ethnic minorities in their own countries demanding independence which keeps them from recognizing – the Basques and Catalans in Spain, Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia, and Cyprus and Greece because of Turkey's occupation of Northern Cyprus. But by not recognizing Kosovo the five implicitly compare themselves to Milosevic' dictatorship – and that is hard to understand, because dictatorship in some of them ended long ago, and in not one of these countries state ordered ethnic cleansing has happened as Milesovic ordered against Kosovo Albanians                           

We need daring leaders – in Serbia and Kosovo, but also in the five non-recognizers, who end this sad story of non-recognition, and start working at more important things, like rule of law, social justice, economic development, state building. Otherwise the Balkan ghosts will go on living and disturbing lives and livelihoods of regular people for many more years to come.

The North of Kosovo is central. Partition is out of  the game. But fear and anger prevails among those who just want to live a normal life, unbothered by organized crime and lack of rule of law. Threats burden the lives of those who dare to say that - even if they would prefer to live in Serbia, they could accept living in the new Kosovo state, if it provided acceptable minority rights for them. They are not the majority - but they are the ones the Kosovo government should, in a first step, focus their outreach activities on.
Since the summer of 2011 positions have hardened, we've seen roadblocks, people firing at each other, at KFOR soldiers, people getting hurt, a few even killed - there is deep concern how this unstable and tense situation in the North is to be brought to a peaceful and prosperous solution for all.

I have always been arguing that if the Serbs in the North had implemented the minority-rights part of the Ahtisaari plan, they would have one of the broadest autonomies existing on this planet. And if they don't like the name Ahtisaari, because he paved the way to Kosovo's Declaration of Independence, oh well - just call it differently and implement what is good for you instead of dreaming of a return to Serbia, a partition, which - let's be honest - most Serbs know is out of the question.

In my latest Kosovo report, adopted in January 2012 by a bigger majority of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee than 2010 (the report is expected to be voted by the plenary of the European Parliament at the end of March 2012) I am calling for restoring the rule of law in the North, by intensifying the fight against organized crime and criminal structures operating out of control of any authority and using this area as a safe haven for smuggling and other illegal activities. The report calls on the Serbian government to dissolve parallel structures in the North of Kosovo. This would mean, for a start, to withdraw the plan to hold local elections in the North of Kosovo, but also to stop financing the illegitimate structures in the North in an intransparent way. An autonomy scheme would also allow Serbia to finance Serbian structures, but it should and would then be in an open and transparent way.

In general the votes on my Kosovo reports (2010 and 2012) send a strong signal that the future of an independent Kosovo lies in the European Union. The European Parliament is and has been the strongest advocate for the Republic of Kosovo. But unfortunately – because the European Parliament is not part of decision-making on EU foreign affairs – my report is not binding. But it has issued a clear call to the five to no longer delay recognition.

The report also makes clear that the EU must do more to give Kosovo a real accession perspective, such as through a trade agreement, the feasibility study on the SAA, and of course the long overdue roadmap for visa liberalisation. The starting of Visa dialogue with Kosovo in January 2012 was an important (even though late) signal for normalisation and stabilisation.

Visiting Kosovo many times over the alst 2,5 years and talking with a lot of people there I got the impression that the general enthusiasm in Kosovo towards the EU is waning. Not because it is all the EU's fault, but because hopes and expectations in the EU and its players, and their rhetoric, have been so high – and the EU definitely has not lived up to these expectations, not even to the ones based on our own promises. This hurts, understandably, in many respects: Four years after independence Kosovars feel the tediousness of the difficult path through the plains, as Bertolt Brecht has said. They feel isolated, they feel they are - again - victims, second-class citizens.

It is true that some important promises of the EU-perspective and the hopes that have accompanied the declaration of independence in February of 2008 have not materialised. Therefore it was not surprising that at the end of last year a Kosovo newspaper asked me a provocative question: What has the EU ever done for Kosovo? At first I thought the more appropriate question would have been to ask whether the EU has done enough. Because I think the EU has done lots – but not enough at the political level.

The EU has done lots in regard to financial, material and technical support for preparing and building institutions of the new state, even some of the non-recognizers participate in common programs and offer bilateral support, some even issue visas. And of course the biggest European Rule-of-Law-Mission EULEX has been cooperating with Kosovo institutions from the start, supporting the strengthening of the state's local and national judiciary, especially in the fields of high level corruption and organized crime, and war crimes – and investigating, indicting, sueing and sentencing alleged criminals; not to the satisfaction of everyone, and too slowly for many, I know. That's where part of the disappointment behind the question to me comes from.

At the political level the EU has also done a lot: Despite the five mentioned member states still not recognizing the new state, the Enlargement Strategy of Thessaloniki in 2003 is in place, and the European Perspective of Kosovo has been confirmed by all EU institutions time and again over the last years. The European Parliament has been the strongest and most outspoken promotor of the Republic of Kosovo's independence.

The Commission has been cooperating with all levels of Kosovo society – from government to civil society and minority groups, be it capacity building, trainings or support for women's organizations, or supporting the formation of the new municipalities south of the Ibar - for years, and successfully in many ways. The Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) is applied with and in Kosovo. From 1999 to 2011 the EU has provided Kosovo with over 2.3 billion euro of assistance and close to 1 billion euro of support to the international presence.

The resolution of the UN General Assembly on September 9, 2010, definitely was a success for the EU and Catherine Ashton – and of course for Kosovo, since it put an end to Serbia's attempt to make negative use of the ICJ-opinion of July 2010 which had clearly stated that Kosovo's declaration of independence did not breach international law – to the disappointment of Belgrade.

Despite these EU efforts the support at political level is not perceived to be enough – and it simply is not enough. Non-recognition by five member states remains. And with only a few exceptions the 22 recognisers are leaning back, watching and waiting – rather than being active themselves in pushing for clarity and recognition. This is weakening our own efforts and the effect of the billions of Euro being spent because – for example – EULEX has not yet, after three years, been able to fulfil one of its main tasks defined in its mandate.

“Status neutrality” has become a haunting term for all those who see that the EU as a whole is weakening itself by its lack of cohesion – materially and even more so politically. Many good intentions get lost in space, and therefore more and more Kosovars are doubting whether the EU still is serious with its promise of the “European Perspective” – and whether their future really lies in the European Union, or maybe in Greater Albania or in closer ties with other powers further away.

What should the EU be doing now: Continue the dialogue after the Serbian elections, and devise a strategy that needs to go further than telecommunications and energy as topics for the dialogue. The way out would be, for instance, to begin a parallel screening process with Serbia and Kosovo right now, when Serbia has candidate status, with both countries,  starting the assessment of the current status of their legislation in view of accordance with EU legislation. This could be done similar to the twin-track approach already experienced with the SAA negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro, which started before the referendum in Montenegro about independence took place. Such a parallel screening process (proposed by relevant experts like Verena Knaus from the European Stability Initiative in a study she has done for KFOS and Foreign Policy Club) would give Kosovars again the feeling of belonging to Europe and of being meant when Europeans talk about the Western Balkans.

 Because even if the feasibility study for the SAA as envisaged by Commissioner Füle is to be finished in the fall of 2012: What then? For an SAA to be negotiated it has to pass the Council, with unanimity. What will the five do then if they haven`t recognized?

Cooperation instead of confrontation is the main principle of the European Union. This principle, if duely applied, can make the Western Balkans a fully integrated part of EU. This principle, if driven by political will, is strong enough to overcome bad Balkan ghosts and to ban them where they belong – to the past. Like those bad ghosts that for ages poisoned relations between Germany and France, and also UK and Ireland, as mentioned at the beginning of this text. 

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