Fresh start for Belgrade-Pristina after the elections?

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What seemed like a breakthrough a year ago is now facing a stalemate: Neither Belgrade nor Pristina are ready to implement the Ohrid agreement that the EU negotiated with them last March and instead are pinning their hopes on leadership changes in Europe and the US to reignite the dialogue.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić and his then-prime minister Ana Brnabic have made it clear that their country will not formally recognise Kosovo’s independence and continue to oppose its joining of the Council of Europe and other international institutions.

His Kosovo counterpart, Albin Kurti, is dragging out the implementation of the long-agreed Association of Serb Municipalities in north Kosovo, which Pristina says violates the constitution and fears it could fail like the system of Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The terms of the Ohrid agreement have now been incorporated into the framework of current EU accession negotiations with Belgrade, into Chapter 35 of the acquis, after EU ambassadors unanimously agreed on this step in mid-April.

Over the past year, EU diplomats have been growing increasingly impatient with the lack of progress, as even the combined efforts of Brussels and Washington have not achieved tangible results.

This lack of progress, they say, is due to both Belgrade and Pristina adopting a ‘wait and see’-approach regarding the outcome of the European elections in June and the US presidential elections in November.

Especially Vučić has been playing for some time, with Belgrade hoping for a return of former US President Donald Trump to the White House.

In his first term, it was Trump’s envoys who supported a land swap between Pristina and Belgrade in 2018, which Vučić and then Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi had negotiated. 

The attempt failed primarily due to resistance from Germany, which did not want to see any new border changes. With Trump, Vučić hopes, there could be another go at it.

US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar is leaving his position at the end of this month, and who will replace him remains unclear.

The EU’s Special Representative for negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, Miroslav Lajčák, was on his farewell tour to Washington this week and is expected to leave his position by August.

In his case, the name of former Slovenian President Borut Pahor, currently working on a draft outline for the continuation of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, has been suggested as a potential successor.

At the same time, the new EU’s chief diplomat who will replace incumbent Josep Borrell, who chairs the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, is not expected to take office until later this year. According to recent polls and political reshuffling among political groups, the candidate might come from the Liberals rather than the Socialists this time.

This could possibly mean November, December or even January, depending on the outcome of the EU’s top job negotiations and the approval of the next European Commission.

Until then, EU diplomats expect the dialogue to be largely dormant, with high-level meetings unlikely to happen.

Some hope that the new EU institutional cycle will be able to break the stalemate with the return of an incentive that worked more than a decade ago: a real perspective of future EU integration and the financial advantages that come with the process.

“While new mediators have a chance to improve the dynamics, there are more structural problems, such as the lack of a credible [EU] membership perspective,” Florian Bieber, professor at the University of Graz and member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), told Euractiv.

He added, “They need a new approach with firm and transparent commitments and a more forceful EU.”

“If the next European Commission, as expected, will be an enlargement-focused Commission, there is a chance that those political processes will be looked at more closely,” one EU official said.

“We might see more incentives – and more pressure – applied on all parties,” they added.

But there are even larger obstacles looming, such as the Serbian public’s low approval for joining the EU, Kosovo’s unlikely progress in its EU accession bid, particularly with Hungary set to take over the rotating EU Council presidency, and the fact that still, five EU member states do not recognise its independence.


EU IN THE WORLD

XI VISIT AFTERMATH | The main danger facing EU-China relations might not be a complete collapse of trade links but a deterioration of political ties that would hamper global efforts to combat climate change.

RAFAH WOES | Europeans warned Israel this week not to attempt a full take-over of the Rafah border crossing, the sole humanitarian gateway between Gaza and Egypt, with concerns growing over more casualties and less aid reaching the besieged exclave.

RECOGNITION TALK | Spain is neither confirming nor denying reports that it will join Ireland and “other EU partners” in recognising Palestine as a state on 21 May – a move that would see Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s party follow the demand of its coalition partner.

DEFENCE BRIEFING

BOOSTING INDUSTRY | Kyiv is looking for EU funds to boost support for its domestic arms industry and tap into additional non-contracted capacities,  Ukraine’s Minister of Strategic Industries, Oleksandr Kamyshin, told Euractiv.

His call came as EU ambassadors struck a political deal on using windfall profits from Russian frozen assets to buy weapons for Ukraine. If all goes according to timeline, the first pay-outs will be made in July.

HISTORIC OVERHAUL | The EU’s multi-billion lending arm this week announced changes to its long-standing policy not to invest in military products, by waiving restrictions on dual-use investments.

COMMITTEE FIGHT | The future of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defence (SEDE) has become the source of horse-trading between several political groups, with some arguing the institution lacks the competencies and skills for its upgrade.

MALI EXIT | The EU decided this week not to renew the mandate of a military training mission in Mali, given the “evolving political and security situation”.

WIDER EUROPE

GEORGIA PROTESTS | Tens of thousands of Georgians descended onto Tbilisi’s Europe Square over the weekend in the latest mass protest against a “foreign influence” bill likened to repressive Russian legislation that has sparked outrage.

DOMESTIC CRACKDOWNS | Ukraine’s parliament voted to sack the deputy prime minister for infrastructure and the farm minister, removing two senior officials who have held key portfolios for the wartime economy.

Ukrainian lawmakers this week also voted to crack down on draft dodgers as the country grapples with a serious shortage of soldiers available to fight more than two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

FIFTH TERM | While most EU member states, as well as the US, UK and Canada, were expected to boycott the event over Russia’s war on Ukraine, a number of them did send representatives: France, Hungary, Slovakia, Cyprus, Greece, and Malta.

Freshly inaugurated and banking on stability, Putin proposed the reappointment of his Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, a technocrat who has helped him through the war in Ukraine and the economic challenges wrought by Western sanctions over Moscow’s invasion.


WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 


ON OUR RADAR NEXT WEEK

  • Nordic Council Security Summit
    | Monday, 13 May 2024 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi visits Serbia
    | Mo-Tue, 13-14 May 2024 | Belgrade, Serbia
  • EU member states to adopt ten texts forming the Pact on Migration and Asylum, a major reform of European migration policy
    | Tuesday, 14 May 2024 | Brussels, Belgium
  • EU finance ministers to discuss implementation of the Ukraine Facility / Economic and Financial Dialogue between EU and Western Balkans, Türkiye, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine
    | Tuesday, 14 May 2024 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Copenhagen Democracy Summit
    | Tue-Wed, 14-15 May 2024 | Copenhagen, Denmark
  • UN Security Council meets on Bosnia
    | Wednesday, 15 May 2024 | New York, United States
  • Lennart Meri Conference
    | Thu-Sat, 16-18 May 2024 | Tallinn, Estonia
  • Annual session of foreign ministers of 46 countries of the Council of Europe for the 75th anniversary of the organisation
    | Friday, 17 May 2024 | Strasbourg, France

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[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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