Failing Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue: Is an International Conference a Solution?

19 tetor 2023 10:26

Artikulli i Përkthyer

The EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue has been on the brink of collapse in recent months. Despite reaching an Agreement on the path to normalization and its Implementation Annex, in February and March 2023 respectively, the implementation of this agreement has significantly fallen short.

Instead of opening a new chapter in relations between Serbia and Kosovo, the Agreement caused deeper division and a new crisis. The main reason contributing to the failure of the dialogue is the stark divergence in the positions held by Pristina and Belgrade regarding the desired outcome of the negotiations. However, another obstacle to progress in the dialogue remains the lack of a clear EU membership perspective for both countries.

Over the last couple of months, difficulties in negotiations continued with constant crises over license plates and IDs, which resulted in Serbs leaving Kosovo institutions and boycotting local elections.

The situation escalated dangerously on September 24, when an armed group of Serbs seized the Monastery of Banjska in Zveçan, Kosovo, and ambushed a Kosovo Police patrol. This resulted in heavy clashes leaving four people dead – a Kosovo police officer and three armed Serbs representing themselves as freedom fighters but very likely connected with criminal structures in the north of Kosovo.

In this highly tense atmosphere, the EU-led dialogue has once been overshadowed, with the international community now focusing efforts on averting further escalations of tensions.

The lack of progress in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue is pushing different actors to look for other options, including the possibility of an international conference to resolve the Kosovo-Serbia knot, which was recently proposed by the Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama.

The international conference would present a “take it or leave it” solution for both Belgrade and Pristina to establish a lasting peace in the Western Balkans and ending a decades-long dispute over Kosovo.

This idea was supported by Nebojša Zelenović, co-president of the Zajedno (Together) party, one of the biggest opposition parties in Serbia. Similarly, it was also endorsed by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, giving additional credibility to the initiative. However, the Kosovo Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, has refuted the idea.

The EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue appears to have reached a dead-end. Consequently, exploring alternative formats for achieving more effective and substantial progress is essential.

Specifically, it is vital to assess the significant advantages and drawbacks of a potential international conference on Kosovo-Serbia relations. This could potentially be the solution both countries are seeking.

The Advantages of an International Conference

One of the most important advantages of an international conference is timing. If successful, the conference would bring a quick solution that would resolve all outstanding issues between Kosovo and Serbia, as opposed to the decade-long dialogue.

Another important advantage is that this requires a multilateral approach from the Western countries, with a particular focus on the QUINT (France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States). This would accumulate pressure on both Kosovo and Serbia to deliver concrete results, therefore reducing the risk of non-implementation.

Third, a potential deal resulting from the international conference would establish a well-defined implementation timeline and might incorporate a mechanism requiring both countries to fully endorse and ratify the agreement within their respective countries, effectively making it an international treaty and a domestic legal constitutional obligation. In this regard, failure to uphold their commitments would result in severe consequences and sanctions.

However, despite all the mentioned advantages, it's important to note that international conferences are not a panacea, and their effectiveness depends on various factors, including the willingness of conflicting parties to engage in good-faith negotiations, the presence of skilled mediators, and the convergence of international interests.

The Drawbacks of an International Conference

While it may appear that an international conference is currently the most pragmatic option for reaching a conclusive settlement between Kosovo and Serbia, it’s crucial to acknowledge that there are also several significant drawbacks to this approach.

First of all, pushing for a final settlement through an international conference can potentially trigger adverse reactions and incite a sense of pressure and injustice to both Kosovo and Serbia.

Second, both sides would hope that they can attain greater concessions in an international conference compared to the current format facilitated by the EU. Both Belgrade and Pristina would attempt to maximize their demands, which could result in a failure of the conference similarly to the UN-led negotiations in 2005.

Additionally, another important drawback could be the possibility of an unsuccessful outcome from the conference, potentially resulting in dissatisfaction among the Western nations and triggering a wave of repercussions and sanctions against both Kosovo and Serbia. Such a scenario would jeopardize the relative progress made thus far in the region and possibly exacerbate the situation.

It remains unclear whether the Western nations will be inclined to pursue such an idea. Nonetheless, this undertaking presents a formidable challenge, especially for the EU. The EU's role in the entire process has been exceptionally significant, with its involvement deeply entrenched and longstanding in the enlargement policy. This makes it particularly challenging to make such extensive changes in the negotiation framework.

The EU took upon itself the resolution of the Kosovo-Serbia conflict as it saw the opportunity to strengthen its influence and position itself on a geopolitical map as an important actor concerning conflict resolution.

By accepting the international conference, the EU would accept its own failure to mitigate this conflict and facilitate a credible normalization process. It would affect the EU’s credibility in Europe and worldwide immeasurably.

19 tetor 2023

Milos Pavkovic