Standstill of the Western Balkans’ EU integration and the negative impact it has for the Kosovo-Serbia normalisation process was one of the focuses of Monday’s policy dialogue organised by the European Policy Centre in Brussels. The role of the United States in the process was also discussed.
“Our policy towards the Balkans is to see them as part of the EU. Full stop. They are a part of Europe,” said Gabriel Escobar, newly-appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the US Department of state.
“From our perspective, this has not changed over administrations, and our message to the EU is that there is very little risk in enlargement… For the countries of the region – EU candidacy is the way to go,” he added.
Commenting on the dispute between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, he said that it should be resolved immediately and that it should not be blocking the whole enlargement process.
Asked how the US was going to help the Kosovo-Serbia normalization process, Escobar said that the US Embassies in both Belgrade and Pristina will continue to monitor the implementation of the agreements and encourage the leaders to move forward in the process. He also stressed that he might join EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák in a future visit to the region if the epidemiological situation allows.
Lajčák, who was also a participant of the panel, conceded the fact that the EU had to deal with many unexpected issues, including COVID pandemic, Brexit and migrant crisis, which is why the enlargement has not been high on the list of priorities.
“But nobody has said that it is not the strategic goal,” Lajčák said. He added that there is not a cause for excuses and that there is no better alternative for Serbia and Kosovo than to normalize their relations.
“There are no technicalities, everything is about political impacts. There is a dialogue at the level of leaders, at the level of chief negotiators, but everything is political”, he added. Lajčák said that, in the dialogue, the sides are currently dealing with two things at the same time – the text of the comprehensive agreement and all past agreements.
“Right now, we are reshaping the dialogue with PM Kurti and Deputy PM Bislimi so that it can reflect their priorities, but the past agreements need to be implemented”, he stressed.
MEP Viola von Cramon, EP Rapporteur for Kosovo, said that, talking with the people on the ground, one gets the impression that the normalization will never happen.
“PM Kurti has a strong mandate, and one would expect that he would use this to the dialogue. But he hasn’t used it thus far,” von Cramon said. She pointed at the political calendar and the fact that there are local elections scheduled for October in Kosovo and parliamentary and presidential elections in Serbia in April next year.
“There is frustration with the entire enlargement process, the credibility of EU as such is damaged, so the younger generation, at least in Kosovo, do not see the process being successful,” von Cramon said. She added that the reforms, ultimately, should be done for the citizens of the candidate countries, not the EU. Talking about the goals of the normalization process, Viola von Cramon said that, in her opinion, everything less than the recognition would be a disappointment.
“I hope that at the end of the process Serbia recognises Kosovo and then we find a way for the EU to do it as a whole”, von Cramon said.
Donika Emini, Executive Director of the Platforma Civikos and a member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), said that the success of the normalization process depends on the support of the Member States.
“Since 2011, the dialogue has been linked with the EU integration processes, but the card is not in the hands of the EU anymore. If the carrot doesn’t exist at the end of the path, there will not be a lot of will to achieve compromises,” Emini said. She emphasized that there is new political leadership in Kosovo and, at least from its side, this is a unique opportunity to restart the process, not to let it be monopolized by several people, which was the case until 2018.
Emini also stressed that, during the Trump administration, there was a lack of coordination between the US and the EU, which has caused many crises in Kosovo. “And this will take a while to recover from”, Emini concluded. /EWB