This year St. George's day (May 6th) promises to be interesting and definitely not much of a holiday. Then in Serbia there will be three types of elections in one day - presidential, parliamentarian and local. In the same day it is expected elections to take place in Greece too, which has been the epicentre of the eurozone debt crisis for two years. And for May 6th is scheduled the second round of the presidential elections in France. It is clear that France and Greece will push the Serbian voting aside, at least because these elections are not expected to solve anything specific but only to mark the beginning of a very long way, which Serbia has to walk ... hand in hand with Kosovo. Besides, enlargement is not quite among the main priorities for the EU at the moment, although it is evident that the European Commission is trying to inject new impetus to the most problematic elements of accession.
EU is a priority for the main opponents in Serbia's presidential elections
As it becomes clear from the statements of the two main candidates for the presidential elections in neighbouring Serbia - Boris Tadic and Tomislav Nikolic - the European integration is in the foundation of their election platforms. This is great, against the backdrop of the tasks that need to be implemented in order to allow the accession negotiations to start, since a green light was given when Serbia received, after long waiting and much uncertainty, a candidate country status at the Spring European Council. But in order to start negotiations, Belgrade has to invest much efforts to improve its relations with Kosovo.
In an analysis entitled "Serbia and Kosovo: Toward A Normal Relationship" Stefan Lehne, visiting scholar of Carnegie Europe, an influential foreign policy think-tank, it is pointed out that the Western Balkan's European integration still is a remarkable motive for the governments in the region, in spite the serious scepticism in terms of EU enlargement because of the debt crisis, and also because the most difficult countries for accession remained - Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Montenegro is also queueing and expects to start negotiations but it definitely does not deserve to be included in the group of difficult countries, because it does not have complex and unsolvable issues with its neighbours.
In Stefan Lehne's analysis, the context in which Serbia and Kosovo will clear their way to Europe is very clearly outlined:
- In the context of the debt crisis in Europe, the process of enlargement to the Western Balkans is a very sensitive issue. The accession of new countries is always related to economic risks, and in the case of Serbia, just like with Turkey (the Cyprus issue), accession will lead to importing a heavy political problem into the Union. No member state has an interest in unresolved territorial disputes;
- Accepting Serbia with its current relations with Kosovo would compromise the process of integration of Pristina with Brussels, especially given that five member states - Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus - do not recognise the former Serbian province's independence.
EU has to play a more active role
According to Carnegie's analysis, the EU should handle more actively the process of rapprochement of Serbia and Kosovo, at least because it handled [in some sense unexpectedly] the restoration of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue successfully after last year's serious rising of tensions. In July 2011 the government in Pristina sent special police forces to the border crossings with Serbia in Northern Kosovo, where, according to rough estimates, live some 40,000 Serbs. The purpose of this decision was to impose a trade boycott on Serbian goods. The Kosovo Serbs in the northern part reacted violently against the international security forces [which evoked Germany's anger, after several German soldiers suffered] and by building barricades.
The efforts of EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs baroness Catherine Ashton delivered and the technical dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina was restored. This success, according to Stefan Lehne, however must be used and the EU must undertake a more ambitious dialogue with the participation, aside of Belgrade and Pristina, but also of representatives of Northern Kosovo. The aim of the dialogue, the author thinks, must be achieving a significant progress toward normalising relations, which consists of the following elements:
- overcoming the division between the North and the rest of Kosovo through steps toward regional autonomy for the North;
- providing international guarantees for the Serb Orthodox monasteries;
- establishing an overall framework for cooperation, including agreements for diplomatic representation;
- ceasing Serb resistance to Kosovo's membership in international organisations and future recognitions of the former Serbian province's independence.
The EU must initiate the process by appointing a high level envoy to lead the negotiations among the three parties (Belgrade, official Pristina and Northern Kosovo). So far so good, the author writes, because Serbia already made it clear that it was ready for concessions for the sake of starting accession negotiations. In February was reached, according to Mr Lehne the most difficult, agreement related to Kosovo's representation in regional cooperation. Although this has nothing to do with the crisis itself, this is probably the most important result from the dialogue so far, is pointed out in the analysis, because Kosovo was until recently represented at regional meetings by the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), established with resolution 1244 by the UN Security Council after the war in 1999.
According to what has been achieved in February, Kosovo will be capable to sign new regional agreements on its behalf and to take part in all regional organisations and meetings. The key is hidden in the following agreement: the Kosovo delegation will sit behind a table with an inscription "Kosovo" and an asterisk. In a footnote it will be written: "This designation is without prejudice to status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence". The author thinks that this breakthrough required major concessions from both sides because Belgrade for the first time allows Kosovo to speak and behave like an independent subject and Pristina admits that it still is not quite a normal country.
Additional hope for continuation of success gives President Boris Tadic's initiative, who will run for the presidential elections, aiming for a third term. In the autumn of last year he launched a plan of 4 points:
- high level of self-governance of the Serbs throughout Kosovo on the basis of decentralisation;
- a region of Northern Kosovo with special rights;
- special status for the Serb Orthodox monasteries;
- process of regulation of property.
St. George's day this year will be especially important for the Serbs. Boris Tadic made a surprising move recently, resigning 10 months before his term ends. The explanation was that if elections 3 in 1 take place this would save money for the budget. One cannot stop thinking, however, that the sooner Tadic runs for a third term after Serbia got a candidate status, the more certain it would be for him to cash down this indisputable achievement. As it becomes clear from the latest poll by the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID), for the Serbs the most important is the country's economic development and the increase of the standard of living, and only then come priorities like fight against corruption, European integration and the solving of the Kosovo problem, investments in health care and education. Everyone is waiting for the elections on May 6th, everyone for various reasons, but all of them important for the European future.