Yesterday the first round of groundbreaking, EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo finished. “Groundbreaking,” because this is the first time representatives of Serbia and its former province have met at such a high level since Kosovo declared independence three years ago. It was probably hard going in the meeting room and the negotiators’ pickaxes have probably just nibbled at the really hard ground – Kosovo’s status, the rights of the Serbian minority in Kosovo. Earlier this week a Kosovar think-tanker published a commentary in Pristina’s leading daily (“leading” even though read by only a few in a country where hardly anyone buys newspapers) that lays bare some reasons why Kosovo’s elites are so suspicious of these talks. The author is Engjellushe Morina of the Kosovo Stability Initiative – no fire-breathing patriotic group like, say, the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party, but a respectable think tank with respected names among its advisors and financial support from respectable Western donors and governments. She interprets the EU’s five guidelines for the talks as five reasons the talks will not benefit Kosovo.
The first guideline: The dialogue is aimed at bringing both sides closer to integration into the European Union; acquis communautaire will be used whenever possible (Morina’s gloss: “The first principle indicates that Kosovo’s chances of moving towards EU integration are almost non-existent, because Kosovo cannot enter into contractual relations with the EU.”)
Guideline 2: The dialogue will take place without prejudice to the status of Kosovo by any party (Morina’s gloss: Serbia can continue to ignore Kosovo’s sovereignty, and the EU won’t interfere.)
Guideline 3: Serious and concrete steps will be taken on the basis of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” (Morina’s gloss: the EU agrees with Serbia’s refusal to agree that Kosovo is an independent state.)
Guideline 4: The EU will be responsible for the entire process and will define the agenda (Morina’s gloss: Brussels’ main aim, pushed by EU diplomat Robert Cooper, is to “drive the state of Serbia towards successful integration into the EU.”)
Guideline 5: There will be a coordinated and common approach to the media by all the parties (Molina’s gloss: Brussels, through Cooper, will spin the outcome its way.)
Kosovo’s disappointment with the EU’s performance as peacemaker and aid-giver goes back years and in the minds of many Kosovars turned into deep suspicion of the EU’s activities in Kosovo and what they see as its backdoor dealings with Belgrade on such matters as the status of Serb-majority northern Kosovo. This is the backdrop to Molina’s bad-tempered piece (she also flings barbs at the controversy-plagued new president of Kosovo, Behgjet Pacolli, and the even more controversy-plagued Prime Minister Hasim Thaci). Kosovars have some, or a lot, of justification for their mistrust of the EU’s intentions toward them. And the EU has at least some justification in wanting to keep many Kosovars at arm’s length.