I’ve already expressed my enthusiasm for the EU’s re-opening of the window for enlargement in the Western Balkans. I don’t take any of it back. But my friends in Kosovo are upset: the final text of the plan apparently erases explicit references to Kosovo, due to Spain’s concern that it represents a model for Catalonia.
I wish that hadn’t happened, but it is far from incurable. It is still clear that the EU is opening the window and that Serbia will have to settle its issues with Kosovo completely–“normalizing relations” is the euphemism–before acceding. The Union is not willing to bring in any new members that have problems with their neighbors. That means recognition and establishment of diplomatic relations between Pristina and Belgrade. I am assured on good authority that Madrid has made it clear that once Kosovo and Serbia settle their issues Spain will go along.
What Spain has done is nevertheless a diplomatic auto-goal. By implicitly accepting the analogy between Catalonia and Kosovo, Madrid makes itself analogous to Milosevic’s Belgrade. Objectively, that is not the case. I may think some of what Madrid is doing to fight the Catalan independence movement is unwise and counterproductive, but it is nowhere near the criminal abuse that Milosevic indulged in. Spain has not chased hundreds of thousands of Catalans from their homes, and the international community has not had to intervene to stop war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nor has Catalonia been governed for the better part of a decade by an international administration entrusted by the UN Security Council with developing self-governing institutions with a view to an eventual decision on final status. Worrying about Kosovo as if it is Catalonia in disguise is foolish.
Kosovars are also partly responsible for their own fate. They have spent years now refusing to ratify a border agreement with Montenegro and months threatening to undo their agreement to a special, internationally staffed tribunal to try accusations of war-time and post-war crimes. Small countries need lots of friends. The border issue is not worth 15 minutes of high quality diplomatic time, never mind years. The special tribunal was tough for Kosovo’s politicians to swallow, but regurgitating it would be no less painful. Had Pristina proceeded with the border demarcation and avoided a new debate over the special tribunal, it would no doubt have had more time, energy, and international credit to ensure better treatment in the EU strategy.
The opening of a Balkan window for enlargement by 2025 is an extraordinary thing for Brussels to do. There is no telling when the window will close again. The only productive response is to get ready as quickly as possible by meeting the entry requirements. For Kosovo, that means border demarcation (not only with Montenegro but also with Serbia) as well as complying with whatever the special tribunal decides. The alternative is decades in purgatory, where friends are few. Kosovo’s citizens would do well to avoid that.