The European Commission has downgraded Kosovo’s enlargement status following a complaint from separatist-hit Spain.
Its new Western Balkans strategy, published on Tuesday (6 February), systematically scrubbed out all language from earlier drafts that had put Kosovo on an equal footing with countries such as Serbia and Montenegro in terms of their EU perspective.
uesday’s text spoke of a “historic window of opportunity” for “Western Balkan countries”, while earlier drafts had spoken of an opportunity for “all six Western Balkan partners”.
The drafts had said EU entry talks with Kosovo as well as Bosnia and others should be “well advanced” by 2025.
But Tuesday’s text said Kosovo could “advance on its European path once objective circumstances allow”, referring to the fact that Spain and four other EU states do not recognise its independence from Serbia.
The drafts had said that if Serbia and Kosovo normalised relations, then it would be “a key element on both Serbia and Kosovo’s EU path” and that this should happen “by the end of 2019 at the latest”.
But Tuesday’s paper said a Serbia-Kosovo deal would see them “advance on their respective European paths” and dropped the 2019 deadline.
It also fudged the question of Kosovo’s inclusion in EU ministerial meetings and summits with the other five Balkans aspirants.
The drafts had said they would “all” be welcome in a “Western Balkans 6 format”, but the published paper said only that “the Western Balkans” would attend such meetings.
The commission changes came after Spain objected to Kosovo’s full inclusion in the strategy.
“The concept of ‘WB6’ [Western Balkans 6] does not fit the enlargement dynamic. Kosovo is not part of the enlargement process and has its own differentiated framework,” Madrid said in an informal paper last week, in the wake of Spain’s own separatism crisis in the Catalonia region.
Greece, which also does not recognise Kosovo, backed Spain.
Of the other EU non-recognisers, Slovakia backed the commission, while Cyprus and Romania declined to take sides.
EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said on Tuesday she hoped the Serbia-Kosovo normalisation deal could still be concluded by 2019.
She told press at the European Parliament in Strasbourg the new strategy was meant to “anchor” the Western Balkans in the EU sphere, despite the snub to Kosovo.
Johannes Hahn, the EU enlargement commissioner, said the Western Balkans remained “very fragile, shaky” 20 years after the wars there ended.
But he said the EU enlargement process had helped to calm the region, using the example of a recent murder in Kosovo.
Hahn said the killing of Oliver Ivanovic, an ethnic Serb politician, in northern Kosovo in January would normally have triggered further violence, but that Serb and Kosovo leaders had instead phoned each other and urged public restraint.
He also said the EU should be less fearful of competition for influence by Russia and China.
The vast majority of Western Balkans trade and foreign investment was tied to EU states, Hahn said.
He noted that Austria, his native country, alone invested four times more than Russia in Serbia. “I don’t think we should play it [Russian competition] down, but we should be clear of our own weight and relevance,” he said.
The Western Balkans strategy envisaged €500 million in EU payments to the region in 2018 to 2020, but Hahn said this money had already been earmarked for this purpose in the budget and was not a top-up.
Writing in an op-ed in EUobserver last week, Bekim Collaku, the chief of staff of Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, warned of “tensions” if the commission followed Spain’s advice.
“It can only add more tensions in the region if some of the countries are advanced while others are left behind,” he said.
(EU Observer, 06.02.2018)
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