By Muhamet Brajshori
Since declaring independence in February 2008, Kosovo has been unable to extend its authority fully in Serb-dominated areas in and around the northern city of Mitrovica, or to stop Serbia from continuing to operate “parallel” institutional structures there.
Now, in the wake of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Belgrade last week, officials and Pristina feel more confident that the EU will push Serbia to settle the issue. The German leader explicitly linked Serbia’s EU accession hopes to progress in the dialogue with Kosovo and abolition of the parallel structures.
Journalists and political analysts, however, have differing views as to what is actually likely to happen.
Speaking to SETimes, Mitrovica journalist Dragan Krstic said the EU will try to integrate the Serbia-run institutions into the Kosovo government, while at the same time striving to bring Belgrade and Pristina together into the bloc.
“For the EU now it is important, through the dialogue, to integrate the Serbian institutions into Kosovo, without removing them,” Krstic said. “While doing this, the EU will try to get both Belgrade and Pristina into the Union in the same time, as a gift to Belgrade for giving up its institutions and to Pristina for accepting the ‘parallel structures’ into its system.”
Agron Demi, executive director of GAP Institute in Pristina, says Serbia will not be asked to recognise Kosovo. EU-Serbia relations, he said, are based on the principle “we agree to disagree” when it comes to Kosovo.
Belgrade will, however, be pressed to accept the conditions outlined by Merkel, he said.
“If Serbia doesn’t take into account the suggestions made by Merkel, this will upset Germany and give a signal that Serbia isn’t taking into account the proposals of the strongest EU member state,” he said.
Seb Bytyci, executive director of Balkan Policy Institute, sees the chancellor’s visit as a possible turning point.
“Merkel’s message was the strongest so far to have come from the EU countries regarding Kosovo-Serbia relations,” he said. “We might be seeing a new paradigm in the EU’s involvement in the Western Balkans. Now that the issue of [Belgrade’s] co-operation with the ICTY is past, the focus should be on Serbia normalising relations with its neighbours.”
“Serbia will have to normalise relations and find a modus vivendi with Kosovo as two neighbouring countries if it is to join the EU. This can be an agreement of mutual recognition, or if not recognition, then ‘an agreement not to recognise'”, Bytyci added.
Potentially undermining the EU’s ability to push for a solution, however, is the lack of unity among its own members. Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain have declined to recognise Kosovo, although the majority of countries in the bloc have done so.
The dissension will come to the fore in December when — provided the EU commission recommends it — the EU is expected to decide on candidate status for Serbia, Krstic said.
“Serbia is still counting on the five countries which have not yet recognised Kosovo, because this will make impossible for the EU to decide anything related to Kosovo by imposing new conditions,” he said. “But Germany can block Serbia, and this will divide the Union then on two issues, Kosovo and Serbia.”