The European Union has decided who is going to lead its top institutions. The appointment absorbing most attention in Kosovo is that of the foreign policy chief, who is responsible for representing the E.U. in its international relations and negotiating externally on behalf of the member states.
Josep Borrell replaces Federica Mogherini and begins his five-year mandate this fall. Among his many duties, Borrell will be responsible for leading the E.U.-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia mediation talks. This dialogue had previously reached a deadlock after Kosovo imposed 100 percent tariffs on products from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in November last year.
The E.U. noted the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, along with security and negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal, as top priorities of the incoming foreign affairs policy chief.
Who is Josep Borrell?
Borrell is an experienced politician and academic, who has been in politics for over three decades. He is characterized by a dichotomic personality and an unorthodox approach to diplomacy. He is Catalan born but against Catalan independence; however, he is a strong proponent of E.U. values and institutions. He has been an outspoken critic of U.S. President Donald Trump and views Russia as an enemy.
Although the E.U. foreign policy chief is responsible for representing the bloc’s foreign policy as a whole, Borrell could give rise to Spanish commitment to the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. Spain is one of the five E.U. member states that still does not recognize Kosovo as an independent country.
When Borrell visited Serbia in March, he stated that “Spain supports the search for a compromise solution within the framework of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.” However, not any kind of solution. After two months in office as Foreign Minister of Spain in 2018, Borrell said he was against the idea of border changes between Kosovo and Serbia.
According to some reports, Spanish news agency EFE quoted Borrell stating that “Europe was not built to create monolithic and homogenous units on the basis of culture and ethnicity, but rather to help different people live together.” This can turn out to be an excellent opportunity for Spain to return to the front lines of European external relations.
EU Foreign Policy in Kosovo-Serbia Dispute
The E.U. launched its efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia in 2011. This process was initiated by former E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who set the stage for both countries to bring peace between the past foes. After two years of negotiations, Kosovo and Serbia signed an agreement to normalize ties.
Mogherini assumed Ashton’s position in 2014 and achieved progress, too. Kosovo managed to sign its first contractual agreement with the E.U., and Serbia opened new acquis communautaire chapters to bring its laws in line with E.U. accession requirements.
Yet, in the last five years, Mogherini failed to make any breakthrough in relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Quite the contrary, she considered the option of land swaps as a possible solution to reach a final deal. The reported discussions about land exchanges were not transparent and lacked public support. Most importantly, the idea of swaps and ethnic homogenization is not in line with the core values of democracy and what the E.U. stands for. Mogherini’s mistake was her failure to consider other alternatives rather than just the contested and highly dangerous idea of border changes.
The April Berlin Summit, an attempt to jumpstart the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue by the leaders of France and Germany, was a clear message to Mogherini that many member states were not satisfied with her performance and that real action had to be taken. Mogherini’s role in the last few months became irrelevant as she was incapable of offering alternatives to overcome the deadlock.
Final Time for EU to Deliver?
In diplomacy, you never know how things will turn out. Two decades ago, it was inconceivable that military intervention in Kosovo was a possibility; former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic himself thought this was a Western bluff to make him retreat. Even more implausible was the idea of Kosovo functioning as an independent nation.
The E.U.-facilitated negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia will reach their tenth year during Borrell’s mandate, and the dialogue desperately needs a refresh. Spain not recognizing Kosovo’s independence might offer a window of opportunity. The fact that Borrell comes from a non-recognizing state can represent a breaking point, driving the E.U. agenda on this issue constructively.
Furthermore, the appointment of U.S. Balkan Envoy Matthew Palmer signals Washington’s reengagement in the region. The most recent development is the appointment of a U.S. Special Envoy specifically for the Kosovo-Serbia issue. On October 3, Trump dispatched Richard Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany, as U.S. special envoy to Kosovo-Serbia peace talks. Borrell might use this opportunity to appoint an E.U. Envoy who would specifically deal with this dispute and pave the way for the needed synergy to reach an agreement.
.@SecPompeo announced the appointment of Matthew Palmer as the new Special Representative for the Western Balkans. Mr. Palmer will lead U.S. efforts to support peace, stability & prosperity in the region & integration into Western institutions. https://t.co/eswn8INJ6u
— Department of State (@StateDept) August 31, 2019
Despite current E.U. enlargement fatigue, the E.U. wants both Kosovo and Serbia to join the bloc in the near future because it is evident that no sustainable future in the Balkans is possible without an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. The E.U.’s inability to deal with its own backyard seriously hurts its credibility in the region.
Borrell has an impressive career as a diplomat, which was not the case with Mogherini. Considering his position and experience, he will most probably try to restore the E.U.’s image in the Balkans by investing more time and resources to finalize a comprehensive peace agreement between Kosovo and Serbia.
Borrell has the ability and experience to make it happen, and his appointment as E.U. foreign policy chief offers the potential for a breakthrough in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.