Can Kosovo survive outside of Josep Borrell’s garden?

03 nëntor 2022 10:02

“Europe is a garden...Everything works…the rest of the world is a jungle”.

— Joseph Borrell, 13 October.

The dominant narrative in Kosovo since 1999 has been that for the people to achieve their hopes of peace and prosperity, Kosovo must cement international recognition and legitimacy by joining the European Union, NATO, and the United Nations.

Achieving these goals would surely provide Kosovo with protection and prosperity. Yet, while hoping for – and striving to achieve – these goals once made sense, is it not increasingly obvious that they cannot be realised?

Kosovo’s international status remains tied to Serbia’s disposition. If Serbia recognises Kosovo, then the vast majority of non-recognisers will follow suit; their primary objection is not to Kosovo, but to the practice of unilateral secessionism which Kosovo represents.

At one point, there were some grounds for hoping that Serbia would alter its stance, but this brief phase has surely passed. Since the Progressive Party came to power in 2012, Serbia has become more authoritarian and nationalistic; there is no meaningful opposition in parliament, media freedom has been curtailed, and human rights diminished.

Serbia has faced little pressure from the EU to alter its stance towards Kosovo, and thus the chances of the political elite in Belgrade – which has aligned itself with Russia – recognising Kosovo are negligible.

Furthermore, the stark reality is that this is highly unlikely that Kosovo will ever join the EU and NATO. The EU’s recent country report is only slightly more positive than last year’s and even Kosovo’s most charitable analysts agree that a huge amount of work needs to be done before Kosovo will fulfil the EU’s extensive list of accession criteria.

Kosovo is not even recognised as a candidate country; Montenegro was recognised as such in 2010 and still has not joined. But Kosovo faces a further unique barrier to its admission; five EU and four NATO member states do not recognise its independence.. Hence, Serbia effectively wields a veto over Kosovo’s EU and NATO aspirations.

But if by some miracle Serbia recognises Kosovo, the five non-recognisers follow suit, and Kosovo fulfils the EU’s criteria, there is still the stark fact that the EU has no appetite for new members; given the prevailing antipathy towards enlargement, they will find new excuses to block admission.

Look how North Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro have been treated. Emmanuel Macron’s recent “European Political Community” initiative is transparently an attempt to fudge enlargement by diverting aspiring members into this amorphous forum. The core no longer wants to admit the periphery.

There also appears to be a particular enmity towards Kosovo, as highlighted by the persistent refusal to grant Kosovo’s citizens visa-free travel in the Schengen zone.

In 2018 the EU Commission finally confirmed that Kosovo had met all conditions outlined in the “roadmap” launched in 2012, but the EU Council – made up of the EU member states – still refuses. Recently, visa liberalization was suddenly tied to the entry into force of the “European Travel Information and Authorization System” possibly in November 2023, but no one knows when this will be operational. It is difficult not to conclude that this is just the latest in a long line of excuses and unfair treatement towards Kosovo, despite the fact that the country has fulfilled all required benchmarks for visa liberalisation.

This visa debacle reveals the stark truth; most of the current political leaders within the EU want to be seen by their electorates as against immigration. Keeping Kosovo at bay is evidently one way of presenting this image.

Given the prevailing context – as exemplified by Borrell’s garden/jungle analogy – Kosovo will not join the EU or NATO for the foreseeable future and Serbia is likely to continue its policy of non-recognition. Therefore, as the Kosovar Centre for Security Studies recently noted, Kosovo’s citizens ‘need a reality check’.

What then is to be done?

Radical Hope?

In Radical Hope Jonathan Lear explores how we can continue to hope when faced with the reality that a way of life we hoped for is no longer possible. Lear focuses on “Plenty Coups” the last Chief of the Crow Nation who witnessed the destruction of his people’s way of life and was forced to accept the new reality. Rather than abandon hope, Plenty Coup and his people adjusted their hopes to the radically altered circumstances. The hope that enabled the Crow Nation to exist in some form was, Lear notes, characterised by “the capacity to respond well to reality”.

To conclude that the previous hopes one held are no longer achievable should not induce despair; it should catalyst a new vision, policies and energy.

It is surely time for radical hope; to consider how Kosovo can exist outside the EU and NATO, and without Serbia’s recognition.

There are some signs that this is underway; Lëvizja Vetëvendosje (Self-determination Movement) has been returned as the single largest party in the last three general elections in Kosovo and currently leads the government. That the people of Kosovo have chosen to support a party that avows a more assertive stance toward Serbia and an inherent antipathy towards suffocating international oversight, demonstrates a positive attitudinal sea-change amongst the public.   

Kosovo’s main allies – the United States, the United Kingdom and Turkey – are very powerful and not members of the EU and thus if it remains outside the “garden” it is not as isolated and vulnerable as some suggest; while NATO membership would be positive, Kosovo already essentially has a security guarantee with NATO in the form of KFOR.  

Kosovo would benefit from accessing the EU’s free markets, but it is simply not true that EU membership guarantees prosperity. An increased focus on new forms of regional economic cooperation would surely be both realistic and worthwhile. Finally, given the array of crippling crises that beset the EU it is not somewhat curious to want to scramble onboard a sinking ship?

Ultimately Borrell’s garden/jungle analogy should serve as a wake-up call; it is yet further confirmation that the hope of joining the EU should be abandoned, but not hope itself. The people of Kosovo, and the wider region, must demonstrate “the capacity to respond well to reality”, recalibrate their hopes, and strive to achieve them.

Find the article in Albanian here.

03 nëntor 2022

Aidan Hehir