Kurti—EU Tensions Are Most Damaging To Kosovo’s National Interests
It is baffling as to why a politician who considers himself to be savvy and who is committed to his country’s national interest manages to alienate his best friends, best supporters, and best protectors, without whom Kosovo cannot survive as an independent and secure country. Perhaps Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti ought to take a little time and reflect on why and under what circumstances the EU would conceivably undermine Kosovo’s national interests only to placate Sebia. For Kurti to believe that the EU wants to accommodate Serbia at his expense is both misguided and counterproductive. He should know by now that if he wants Kosovo to join the EU sometime in the near future, he must work hand-in-hand with the EU in every respect and avoid any conflict that could hinder his country’s integration process.
Although EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell blamed Kosovo for failing to implement a deal with Serbia on normalizing relations, stating that Kurti “was not ready to move forward,” Kurti needs to understand that the blame is not unfounded.
To begin with, Kurti needs to know that Serbia’s ultimate recognition of Kosovo can be achieved only in stages based on reciprocal steps taken by Belgrade and Pristina. Kurti is wrong to claim that “We will either implement the whole deal entirely or we will not implement only what Serbia wants. This logic is dead.”
The problem is that both Serbian President Vucic and Kurti are demanding that the other take the first step, which is a fallacious argument that leads nowhere. Vucic wants to see progress first on the creation of the Association of Serb Municipalities, which will encompass 10 Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo, while Kurti wants Serbia to make the first move by taking steps towards officially recognizing its independence, which Vucic refuses.
In this respect, however, the onus falls squarely on Kurti’s shoulders, who thus far has reneged on the establishment of the Association of Serb Municipalities, which had been agreed to and should have been implemented long ago. In addition, as Borrell reiterated, Kurti “fell very short” by not taking steps to de-escalate the tensions by holding new elections in the predominantly Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo, as the original elections were boycotted by the Serb community. Borrell is right to suggest that Kurti needs to enact new elections to demonstrate good faith efforts to fulfill what must be done without any further delay or pre-condition.
Second, if Kurti’s goal is to integrate Kosovo into the European community, he must improve his ties with the EU, which could open the door wider for the five EU countries that have not recognized Kosovo as yet—Cyprus, Spain, Romania, Greece, and Slovakia—to do so, which is a must before Kosovo can join the bloc. He ought to demonstrate that he is ready and willing to work with the EU to resolve every conflicting issue between Kosovo and Serbia and not readily dismiss the advice offered by Borrell.
Moreover, Kurti must compromise when required to reach agreements and not assume positional bargaining that leaves no room for negotiations. Borell was right to warn that the impasse between Kosovo and Serbia was hurting both countries’ desire to one day join the EU. He further added that “At the end of the day, those who suffer more for the inability of their leaders to stay true to their words are the citizens.”
Thus, by resolving the issue of the Association of Serb Municipalities and scheduling a new election, it will allow the EU to lean heavily on Vucic to reciprocate. For example, it could pressure Serbia to stop blocking the implementation of the 2013 and 2015 Energy Agreements. That said, Serbia has nevertheless joined the Crimea Platform with the aim of reversing Russia’s 2014 annexation of the peninsula. This clearly suggests that Serbia’s long historic alliance with Russia is waning as Belgrade aspires to integrate with the EU while gradually cutting ties with Russia. To be sure, without reciprocal steps, both Kosovo and Serbia are risking their European futures.
Third, Kurti must remember that there is extensive concern in the West that Russia could use Belgrade to reignite ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, especially now that the war in the Ukraine is raging without an end in sight. Kurti cannot, indeed must not, take this matter lightly. The EU and the US are preoccupied with Putin’s design to destabilize the Balkans and try to use Vucic to do his bidding.
To prevent that from happening, the EU needs to draw Serbia into its orbit. It is foolish to assume that the EU’s efforts in this respect will harm Kosovo in any shape or form. To the contrary, the closer Serbia comes to the EU, the better it is for Kosovo as this would invariably lead to a more conducive atmosphere that would speed up the normalization process between Kosovo and Serbia as well as the recognition of the former by the latter.
It is time for Kurti to come down to earth and stop taking positions totally inconsistent with what reality dictates. The notion that the EU is acting against Kosovo’s interest is totally misguided. For Kurti to say in a press briefing in Pristina that “There was a clear positioning of the mediator [Miroslav Lajcak] against Kosovo…They have gone a long way in attacking the future of Kosovo,” is truly absurd. He must recognize his mistakes and resolve to take any and all steps necessary to advance Kosovo toward becoming an integral part of the EU.
Kurti’s current approach has done nothing but significantly damage his relations with the EU to a point where the latter was forced to impose sanctions on Kosovo, which demonstrates how deeply their bilateral ties have sunk. If Kurti continues to travel on this dead-end road, the EU will have little choice but to wait until the next government in Kosovo is formed and leave Kurti with nothing to show for.
Indeed, instead of advancing the integration process into the EU to which all Kosovars are yearning for, he further distanced Kosovo from the EU to the utter dismay and disappointment of his people. This may well be the legacy he will leave behind.