Euro-Atlantic Kosovo Deserves US-EU Joint Mediators – OpEd


At the current stage, the Kosovo-Serbia crisis resolution process has entered in a critical phase. After a several-year blockade due to local, regional, and international reasons, it seems that the time is coming for the actors and relevant factors to return to negotiation talks. The purpose of the talks at this stage is to reach a comprehensive final agreement on the mutual recognition within the existing borders, ratified by the parliaments of the two countries, as well as secure a legal validity and international assurances. 

At this stage, in addition to the procedure for opening negotiations and preparing the substantive essence of the draft agreement, there are two aspects that remain the subject of debate and political controversy in Kosovo and beyond: first, the format of international mediator and, second, speed of negotiations to reach an agreement. In this paper I will analyze the first aspect, that of the international mediator.  

The Kosovo-Serbia talks, dialogue and negotiations suffer from a deep lack of trust between the parties and from assurances in the implementation of their decisions. For these reasons, credibility and pledges for the implementation of decisions, in Kosovo-Serbia negotiations is needed an international diplomatic mediation, with a credibility and authority to impose and guarantee power of influence over the parties.

In regards to international mediation, recently a serious clash is taking place inside Kosovo. Political controversy is deepening and polarization in Kosovo is connected to the format of the international mediator. The debate is about three questions: Will the EU remain the only mediator? Will the United States enter as the only mediator? Or will we have a return to Euro-Atlantic, EU-US bilateral mediation? This debate seriously calls into question the very nature of Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic project.

Let us remember that since the Rambouillet Agreement, 1999, the political factor in Kosovo has been unified in its pro-Euro-Atlantic stance. It was this internal Kosovo unification that facilitated the work of the Euro-Atlantic factor during the design, support and implementation of the Kosovo project. Euro-Atlanticism has been decisive for the liberation of Kosovo from the Serbian dictatorship, for the declaration of its independence, for state formation, for its international recognition and for its further integration into regional and universal initiatives and organizations.

For the first time in 2012, the Kosovo project was unilaterally diverted from the Euro-Atlantic EU-US partnership. It was the time when the White House under President Barack H. Obama declared a strategy of withdrawal from the Balkans and the Middle East and focused on the Far East. In order not to leave a political-diplomatic gap, the EU increased its interest, presence, and actions in the Balkans. The basic problem remained, as today, the solution of the Kosovo-Serbia node. For this, the EU expressed its readiness to mediate the Kosovo-Serbia talks, without the presence of the United States.

Exactly in 2012, the National Assembly of Kosovo adopted a resolution on the basis of which it mandated the Government of Kosovo to open the technical talks with Serbia, which for the first time would be done through E. U. mediation. This was the first initiative taken by Kosovo to agree to change the Euro-Atlantic format of the international mediator between Kosovo and Serbia, from the format of the EU-US joined Euro-Atlantic mediator, to unilateral mediator meaning only the EU (without the USA).  So it was the Government of Kosovo, then headed by Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, that supported (without being concerned for the future) this change in the format of the international mediator, from the Euro-Atlantic EU-US format, to the unilateral EU format, without the United States.

The Serbian side was very pleased with the withdrawal of the United States from the mediation of the Kosovo-Serbia talks, so they immediately agreed to change the format of mediation. This is because the Serbian side, on the one hand, was interested in dividing the EU-US Duette as they approached the Kosovo imbroglio. On the other hand, without the presence of the U. S. factor, the Serbian side would more easily exploit the existing EU-related division over Kosovo’s status, in order to accomplish its political strategy within the EU’s only hosted   agreement.  In this move, Serbia enjoyed Russia’s full support because it also served as a ‘Trojan Horse’ for its geopolitical interests to weaken the Euro-Atlantic alliance as a whole and the E. U..

The EU-mediated Serbia-Kosovo talks lasted eight full years without the U. S. presence. They produced about twenty-five technical and political agreements, most of which have not been implemented. After eight years, the talks were blocked. EU diplomacy, led by Federica Mogherini at the time, could not lead the talks towards a final solution. The EU chief diplomat, with or without intention, opened the most dangerous issue for Kosovo, the Balkans and all of Europe – that of territorial change. Mogherini fell into the trap of the Serbian option, supported by the President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, and then by the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama. The Vučić – Thaçi – Rama Troika, in 2016, began to operate in support of the Serbian project and were under the influence of other geopolitical and lobbying factors supporting this option. Faced with other internal challenges at the time, the E. U. and its leading countries did not pay close attention to the Kosovo-Serbia talks, until their crisis erupted politically and publicly in Kosovo, Albania, the Balkans and the world.

When the situation entered in a gridlock and dangerous tunnel, the two Euro-Atlantic partners, the EU and the US, returned to the Balkans’ agenda, with a special focus on Kosovo-Serbia talks. At this time, the two Euro-Atlantic partners, the E. U. and the U. S., do not seem to be politically unified and diplomatically agreed upon to mediate together, as before, to reach a final, comprehensive Kosovo-Serbia agreement. The current climate of EU-US relations in general is not the same as before, while their approach to resolving the Kosovo-Serbia crisis is unclear. The US-EU dilemma is also reflected amid Kosovo’s politics.

A political approach in Kosovo is in support of the United States as the sole mediator, not the EU. Paradoxically, this option is supported by President Thaçi and his supporters. We say paradoxically because Thaçi has changed his approach to the international mediator formula three different times. In the early years of the Kosovo issue right after Rambouillet (from 1999 to 2011), Thaçi supported the Euro-Atlantic E.U.-U.S. Duette as an international mediator for Kosovo.  From 2012 to 2018 it was again Thaçi who agreed with the unilateral mediation of the EU, without the US, this was the preferred anti-US format of Serbia. After 2018, when the secret Serbo-Russian option for the territorial division of Kosovo was exposed and massively opposed in Kosovo, in the Balkans and Europe but remained ambiguous in the White House, it is again Hashim Thaçi who radicalized his posture, making a turn in support of only the U.S. mediation and declaring himself anti-E.U.

These unprincipled and unjustifiable moves by President Thaçi towards the approach of Euro-Atlantic, and the EU-US factors seem to have a hidden background. First, these are moves prompted by the Kosovo-Serbia secret talks project, which clearly aims to divide Kosovo and its economy in favor of Serbia. Second, Thaçi’s moves toward a Euro-Atlantic EU-US approach are also linked to his personal political interests in Kosovo. Thirdly, Thaçi’s movements are undoubtedly dictated by the problems he has with international justice for the period before, during and after the war for the liberation of Kosovo. In the final analysis, any approach led by anyone who comes and aims to divide the Euro-Atlantic Duette in general and for Kosovo in particular is directly and without any doubt in favor of the Serbo-Russian factors.

The second option, which seems to be widely supported in Kosovo, is the unique Euro-Atlantic mediation, US-EU. There is no high-impact anti-US approach in Kosovo. Manifestations of anti-US symptoms here and there are sporadic and unstable and are more related to short-term political junctures and dissatisfaction with a particular U. S. representative and individuals and are in no way whatsoever related to the United States and its people.

In Kosovo there is no anti-EU spirit. The symptoms that appear are also sporadic and unstable, are related to short-term postures and addressed to any unfriendly state of Kosovo. Local factors in Kosovo are largely Euro-Atlantic. They consider and support the EU and the US as their biggest saviors and supporters. On this broad pro-Euro-Atlantic popular basis, Kosovo’s politics need to stick to the demand for a unique Euro-Atlantic EU-US co-operation until the end of the Kosovo project and should never maintain a dual (separate) approach between them.

Kosovo’s 21-year history proves that whenever the Euro-Atlantic factor has acted unified in Kosovo, the latter’s successes have been visible and guaranteed. When Euro-Atlantic factors, for various reasons, have acted separately, the Kosovo project has recognized the status quo or succumbed into backwardness. In approaching the mediator, the entire political and institutional factor in Kosovo needs to support the unified Euro-Atlantic EU-US format. This approach stems from the Euro-Atlantic character of the Kosovo project itself. It is Serbia and its strong supporter, Russian Federation, that have been trying for years to widen the gap between the unique US-EU factor and the Euro-Atlantic Kosovo project with the sole purpose of paving the way for Russia’s influence, presence, interests and geopolitical actions in Balkans.

This article was translated from Albanian language by: Peter M. Tase 

Dr. Lisen Bashkurti

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Lisen Bashkurti is the Dean of the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences (FLSS), Epoka University, Tirana, Albania. In 1992-1993, Bashkurti was the ambassador of Albania to the Republic of Hungary.

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