The well-known German expert on the Balkans, Bodo Weber, in an interview for KosovaPress stated that he expects reduction of tensions between Kosovo and Serbia after the Brussels agreement on license plates, which was reached on Thursday. Weber says that the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, used the reciprocity measure to increase tensions, as an essential tool of his policy.
According to expert Weber, the fact that no agreement was reached before September 14 on free movement, which led to the measure of reciprocity, proves that the dialogue led by the European Union has lost its power and credibility. According to him, this will not change until the EU reliably restores its enlargement policy, and this is done with a serious commitment from the US. Weber does not expect any progress this year in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.
Regarding the post-Merkel era and the policies towards the Western Balkans and especially the dialogue, Weber says that the German leadership should have a serious commitment regarding the EU enlargement policies, sitting down in a serious discussion with the French President Macron.
KosovaPress: Mr. Weber, an agreement was reached between Kosovo and Serbia on license plates, in Brussels. Does this agreement reduce tensions in the north between Kosovo and Serbia?
B. Weber: I expect so – judging by the agreement published by EU negotiator Miroslav Lajcak today, a compromise has been struck, and a large and provisional agreement that represents a certain limited gain for the Kosovan government and its policy of reciprocity, and leaves no side fully satisfied – but that will lead to the de-escalation.
KosovaPress: While Western diplomats (EU and US) constantly called for a reduction of tensions, on the other hand, Russia, as an ally of Serbia, somehow started the fire, even causing a scandal, through its ambassador to Belgrade, who visited the Serbian military forces, which sounded like support for inciting tensions. Will this in any way affect Serbia’s relations with the West?
B. Weber: Well, Serbia, president Vucic used the incident to raise tensions, a core tool of his political spin, including playing on the Russian card, an integral element of his policy of maneuvering in between West and East. As long as we don’t see a serious reset of the EU enlargement policy, including making the membership perspective credible again, and based on this, a real serious reset of EU-US negotiations on a final, comprehensive agreement, we won’t see a serious U-turn in Western policy towards Serbia that will remove Vucic’ maneuvering space for such games.
KosovaPress: This situation seems to dynamize the dialogue process between Kosovo and Serbia. What do you expect to happen in the future?
B. Weber: I don’t see a dynamic in the dialogue at all. The fact that it wasn’t possible for the EU (and the US) to get Belgrade and Prishtina to agree on a new provisional arrangement, on the provisional arrangement of the 2016 agreement on freedom of movement, a rather marginal dialogue agreement before September 14, it demonstrates the degree to which the EU-led dialogue process has lost credibility. And this will not change until the EU credibly restores its enlargement policy, and the EU, headed by Berlin, and the US engage on the highest level in a real reset of the Kosovo-Serbia negotiations, starting with defining a negotiating framework with clear and credible principles.
KosovaPress: As the dialogue has gained more momentum, do you expect the tensions to continue, or will the parties be more restrained?
B. Weber: As I said, I see the dialogue in a structural, permanent crisis. I thus expect no real progress in 2021, which is an intermediate year with the Biden administration not yet fully settled, and a change in government in Germany and the departure of Chancellor Merkel. But I also don’t expect any further, major tensions.
KosovaPress: Tell us please the role that Germany will have in this process, in the next period which means post-Merkel era?
B. Weber: The era of Chancellor Merkel is ending. Merkel played a key lead role in the dialogue and the EU Western Balkan policy more broadly, but her power and influence was waning for several years already, undermined by French president Macron’s rejection of enlargement in general, and his blocking of opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania more concretely. The new German government needs to urgently renew the German leadership on EU enlargement and the Kosovo-Serbia dispute, starting with a serious commitment, serious discussion with president Macron next year after the French presidential elections. Because, if Macron does not drop his resistance in 2022, the membership perspective, i.e., the EU’s enlargement policy will be ultimately dead, and with it the dialogue. With serious, long-term repercussion on the stability and security of the region, and of Europe as a whole. I at this moment see the hope for such a renewed German leadership much more with the Green party entering the new government, than with the future Chancellor, whether he might come from the winning Social democratic party, SPD, or Merkel’s CDU.