Time for Kosovo to Show Its Full Potential
The latest ‘implementation annex’ agreed in Ohrid could mark a real turning point in Serbia-Kosovo relations. Or it could just as easily be torn apart at the hands of nationalist fervor, following in the path of previous attempts at mediation. Regardless of how well it fares, Kosovo should look to use this moment in the spotlight to highlight its remarkable progress on its journey to the European Union.
With the latest round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina leading to the new ‘implementation annex’ of the agreement to normalize relations, stock must be taken in Brussels of the realistic chances for the two to obtain EU membership in the near future. If both countries have enough political will to fully implement the agreed deal and work towards the creation of normalized relations in the coming years, then EU membership could realistically be back on the table.
In any case, it is time for Kosovo to be able to fully realize its potential and show its strong reformist path to the wider international community. If Pristina can highlight its current pro-EU path, alongside continuing to lead the Balkans in its reform efforts, it could soon look to become a serious contender for EU membership in the coming years.
If regional leaders finally recognize the opportunity presented to them to end the long-running dispute, and the deal is implemented properly with international oversight, then there shall be a favorable position for Kosovo to greatly accelerate its accession to European organisations, as well as its possible negotiations to join both the EU and NATO.
Quickly becoming one of the regional leaders in media, civil, and political freedoms, alongside implementing deep and meaningful reforms across a host of sectors, it should seek to stress the great strides it has made in recent years. If it continues its current pace of reform, Pristina may soon be able to continue to accede to more international organisations as part of its journey to full international recognition.
Regardless of whether or not Serbia can hold up its end of the most recent bargain, this is a rare opportunity for Kosovo to show its merit. Fully adhering to the recent implementation annex and showing its commitment to international agreements, especially one brokered by the EU, could give the Balkan nation the breathing room required to ask for stronger concessions in any potential next round of talks.
There still remains a number of hurdles in Pristina’s way. Firstly, the lack of formal recognition from five current EU members acts as an absolute wall to any progress in possible membership negotiations.
Certain members, like Spain, have long viewed Kosovo’s disputed status as a direct threat to their own domestic situations, seeing its informal approach to succession and lack of international recognition as a script for their own potential breakaway regions.
If Pristina and Brussels were able to show that such formal recognition from outstanding EU member states would be part of a broader set of agreements on normalized relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and would not create any further domestic constitutional crisis in member states, then formal EU-wide recognition may finally be attained. This would then smooth the path to formally opening Kosovo’s negotiations for membership.
Belgrade’s consistent attempts at blocking Pristina’s membership of a number of international organisations, namely the UN, have also stalled progress. Without such membership, Kosovo has often been unable to highlight its progress on a global stage, as well as acting as a fully sovereign actor in the intentional community. As part of the recent ‘deal’, Belgrade should in theory no longer bar such membership attempts, unblocking one of the largest stumbling points in Pristina’s road to reform and recognition.
Pristina should therefore push hard on both these issues, working constructively with both the EU, and especially, the outstanding members that do not recognize them, to resolve these outstanding disputes. Showing both that Kosovo has earned its spot on the international table, and that its independence was legal as decreed by the ICJ, should take precedent in such discussions, which Pristina should seek to open in the coming months, alongside emphasizing its work on formalizing all aspects of the agreed ‘implementation annex’.
If such hurdles were cleared in the near future, and the country continues its reformist outlook, the eventual path to EU membership could be greatly accelerated. In turn this could even lead to Pristina catching up to other membership hopefuls in the region such as Albania, North Macedonia, and even Serbia itself.
A Helping Hand
Such a change in pace however, must not and cannot be one-sided. The EU must recognize that in order for Kosovo to truly reach its true potential, and to well-proceed on its pro-EU path, Brussels must be willing to provide relevant assistance along the way.
Pristina is well on its way to proving its dedication to democratic norms, and it is fast becoming a regional leader in media, political, and civil freedoms. However, if the current membership acquis is upheld, it will not reach current EU standards for at least a decade, if not more.
Therefore, the current accession negotiations platform should not be entirely scrapped, but reformed to reflect both modern and regional differences between potential member states. Just as EU membership is often shaped according to the structures and needs of member states, so too should the membership negotiations be treated in the same manner. The accession process of 30, 20, or even 10 years ago is no longer entirely relevant for current accession of countries like Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, or North Macedonia.
Furthermore, Brussels must be willing to not only recognize Kosovo’s outstanding reform efforts over the last decade, but also highlight its pro-EU trajectory. Once Brussels fully appreciates that Pristina will most likely eventually join the bloc, maybe even sooner than many expect, will this allow for suitable preparations on both sides to be made.
If and when Pristina is finally allowed to open formal EU membership negotiations, such talks could act as a springboard to serious discussions regarding Kosovo’s potential accession to the NATO military alliance. Over 20 years after NATO’s direct involvement in Kosovo during its conflict with Serbia, the country has been left on the periphery of the alliance’s integration, well behind many of its regional neighbours across the Balkans.
Even if certain NATO members were unwilling to view Pristina’s membership of the military alliance as realistic in the near future, then at least enhanced cooperation through its Partnership for Peace (PfP) or even in the form of an Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAP), should be strongly considered.
Regardless of how the current deal is processed in both capitals, change must come between the EU’s relationship with the two. Brussels has wasted too much time and money, with little to show for it. Kosovo has been left waiting around for too long, working too hard in implementing proper, well meaning reforms just to be left behind in its path to EU membership.
Kosovo’s time is now. It’s time the EU, and the wider international community recognized as much. However, it shall only reach its true heights if it allows itself to show true dedication to its reform efforts alongside emphasizing its current progress. To help it get there Brussels must be willing to fully aid it along its journey. Kosovo’s journey has been long and arduous in its quest for international recognition and EU membership, it’s time we help it finish the job.
[Aboodi Vesakaran / Unsplash]
Cameron MacBride is a freelance journalist and researcher with the Post-Conflict Research Centre in Sarajevo. His main work focuses on the contemporary politics of the Western Balkans alongside the European integration of the region. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.