Osmani: Progress made in lobbying non-recognizers

After Kosovo unveiled plans to apply for EU membership before the end of the year, its president told EURACTIV in an interview that progress is being made in lobbying the five EU member states that currently do not recognize the country.

Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Romania, and Slovakia do not recognize Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, declared in 2008 following a brutal 1998-99 war that saw 13,000 people killed and up to 1.4 million ethnic Albanians displaced.

For Kosovo to be granted EU candidate status and membership, it requires the unanimous approval of the 27 member states, which remain divided on the matter.

“But we want to use these years on two fronts, one, in making sure that we push forward for important reforms in our country that would bring us closer to the EU. And secondly, in convincing all EU members to support Kosovo’s membership and give us a candidate status,” President Vjosa Osmani said.

She explained that they chose to apply in December, still during the Czech presidency of the EU Council, because Prague has given a lot of support to Kosovo and the region, and because of the hopes that visa liberalization will be finalized by the end of the month.

Sweden, which is much less interested in enlargement, takes over from the Czechs on 1 January.

Commenting on the Western Balkan summit held in Tirana this week, Osmani said she saw a shift in the language of the signed declaration as it talks about “the EU membership perspective for all six members of the Western Balkans,” rather than just the “European perspective” or membership for five states.

This reflects both the possible candidate status that could be granted to Bosnia and Herzegovina next week, and Kosovo’s intentions to apply.

Asked if any specific strategies or approaches are being used with the five non-recognizers, she said that a step-by-step approach is being taken and progress has been made.

With some, Osmani said, there is already a high level of economic cooperation, recognition of documents, tourism, and culture, meaning all that is left is the formal recognition.

“So we’re going to continue with this approach with the other non-recognizers as well, some of which had more of a rigid approach towards Kosovo, but I think we’re we’re getting there, we just need to be patient.”

Osmani said she was grateful to those who are partners and allies but stressed that the EU as a whole should understand that ambiguous messages are no longer appropriate in the current geopolitical context.

 

“I think this is one of those inflection points in history where the European Union should understand that mixed messages, vague messages do not get things done any longer. They have to be clear towards Western Balkans, with support towards members of the Western Balkans that have taken a clear position on Ukraine, a clear position against Russia.”

Rising tensions

Since the end of the Kosovo war, tensions with Belgrade have steadily simmered despite some 11 years of EU-facilitated dialogue.

But after Russia invaded Ukraine and Serbia refusal to align with the bloc’s foreign policy line, tensions flared up again, leading to renewed concerns that conflict could erupt.

Intensified efforts from the EU and the US to get all parties to the negotiating table have yielded a slight diffusion, but Pristina has criticized the EU for its appeasement of Serbia – through Osmani stressed it was not directed at countries but at “some diplomats and EU institutions” – while thanking the US for its involvement.

Osmani said the EU has historically preferred appeasement, particularly in terms of the Balkan region. She drew parallels to the rule of Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milošević who was “seen as a peacemaker” by the EU in the 1990s.

 

“We know where that approach took us,” she warned. “It led to horrendous wars that resulted in the killing of 150,000 civilians, the rape of thousands, mass graves…still with innocent missing persons who were forcibly disappeared. That is the result.”

Another issue, she said, is that many of those working in the region or on dialogue for the EU do not have first-hand knowledge of the Balkans during the 1990s.

“Many others that are now involved kind of believe that the world started in 2011, with the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, but we should not forget that there is a context to that dialogue.”

 

“There’s a reason why we are in the situation today, and you cannot just ignore the context of the 1990s,” she explained, referring to the war crimes committed by Serbs in the aftermath of Yugoslavia’s break-up.

She continued that it is only rational that Kosovo expects the EU to be fair and acknowledge the reality on the ground and tactics being used by Serbia such as instrumentalizing the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo, which Osmani said come straight from the playbook Russia used before the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“So we should be very vigilant and careful in not ignoring these actions and words by Serbia because we need to prevent the escalation of the situation. But you cannot achieve prevention if you blame the victim the same way as you blame the aggressor. Whether we’re talking about Russia and Ukraine, or about the Western Balkans.”

She stressed that “Serbia continues to be the only risk for the peace and stability in the Western Balkans and beyond because this stability in the Western Balkans is destabilizing the entire European continent”.

 

“So we should know that there is one source of instability. There’s only one and that source is serving as a Russian proxy, unfortunately, also serving Russian interests.”

New proposal for dialogue

Just before the summit, stakeholders received an updated proposal for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Osmani declined to elaborate on its content and said it is now in the analysis stage by top state officials, who will then take a common and coordinated approach.

However, she explained that mutual recognition is the only solution that will guarantee lasting peace and stability in the region.

“So we’re working to get that done. When it will get big, maybe achieved, it’s a different issue. But that’s our aim, always keeping in mind that we have to protect and preserve Kosovo’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, as well as its unitary character as provided in our Constitution.”

“We will continue to be constructive, to be open, to be creative, and also to make compromises when needed, but never in a way that would make Kosovo a non-functional state. That is the red line,” she said.

Autor: Euractiv