Daniel Serwer: Black smoke and fortitude


3 April 2013

The EU-sponsored talks between Belgrade and Pristina concerning northern Kosovo and related issues ended last night without an agreement.  The delegations returned home to consider their options.  The Kosovo delegation appears reasonably satisfied with whatever is on the table, which presumably meets Prime Minister Thaci’s requirement that any agreement be consistent with the Kosovo constitution (which incorporates the Ahtisaari Comprehensive Peace Settlement).

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vucic offered to resign.  This I suppose means that he was the stickler.  This is not as surprising as some may imagine.  While allowing “Socialist” Prime Minister Dacic lots of rope (to hang himself with) in the bilateral dialogue, “Progressives” President Nikolic and Vucic have been absolutely committed to maintaining Serbia’s claim to sovereignty over all of Kosovo.  They will also want adeal for the Serbs in northern Kosovo that includes police and courts as well as most other things outside Pristina’s control.  Why they thought they could achieve either of these goals is beyond me.

Lady Ashton, who has handled this negotiation well, now needs to wait the Serbs out.  No one in Belgrade ever agreed to a deal until the very last moment, hoping to get more by holding out.  Ashton does not report on progress in the talks until mid-April.  Letting Nikolic and Vucic contemplate the loss (at least for a couple of years) of the opportunity to open accession negotiations with the EU is the only way to get them to move from whatever position they’ve dug themselves into.

Vucic in particular has a lot at stake.  He has been riding high on anti-corruption efforts, including some that have embarrassed Dacic.  It had been widely anticipated that Nikolic would call early elections, hoping to capitalize while blaming Dacic for any loss in

the Kosovo negotiations.  I suppose it is possible for the Progressives to do well in elections by saying that they chose Kosovo over the EU, but if they do that they will be nailing the door to EU accession shut for a good long time.  It would be much better for Serbia to go to early elections with an EU date for accession talks announced.

Suzana Grubjesic, the minister in charge of EU integration, was in Brussels with the Serbian delegation. I trust she will tell her bosses how dumb it would be to pass up this opportunity.  Serbia needs the funds that come with accession talks.  There is also a real possibility the EU could close the political door to new members, even though Serbia has been moving relatively quickly to meet the technical requirements.  The euro crisis is not yet history.  If it gets worse, Serbia could find itself on the slow boat to EU membership, along with Kosovo.

A lot now depends on something the EU is often lacking:  fortitude.  But this is a case where the EU requirement for consensus does not necessarily lead to a lowest common denominator solution.  All 27 members have to agree to open accession talks with Serbia.  German Chancellor Merkel has been vital to keeping the EU dialogue on track.  If she remains stalwart in insisting on dissolution of the parallel Serbian structures in northern Kosovo, we could see not only progress in normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia but also an EU that learns to use its diplomatic clout well.

Black smoke and fortitude | peacefare.net.