On 19 April 2013, Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's Prime Minister, struck a deal with Ivica Dacic, his Serbian counterpart at the time. The Brussels agreement on principles governing the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo was widely hailed as "historic".
"The agreement today is historic and marks an important moment in the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo as well as in their relations with the European Union," said Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. In the words of Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule this was "an historic day for Serbia-Kosovo relations, for the entire Western Balkans region and for the European Union." For High Representative Catherine Ashton, who had brokered the deal, it was "a step away from the past and, for both of them, a step closer to Europe."
In January 2014, Serbia was allowed to formally start accession talks, a crucial step on its way towards membership. But what has Kosovo gained? Five EU member states still have not recognised Kosovo as an independent state. On 28 October 2013, Kosovo was allowed to start negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). Enlargement Commissioner Fule announced that "following the Lisbon Treaty, which conferred legal personality to the European Union, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement will be concluded in the form of an EU-only agreement," meaning that it will not be ratified by the EU member states. The Commission will negotiate the agreement and – after approval of the European Parliament – will sign it. Then it has to be adopted by the Council. As the decision requires unanimity, it cannot be taken for granted. In this respect it is not reassuring that the EU has imposed harsher conditions on Kosovo to obtain visa free travel than on all other West Balkan countries.
Even if we assume that Kosovo will be able to conclude an SAA, it will hit a wall right afterwards. The next step on the EU integration path is to hand in a formal application for membership. The Treaty on the European Union states that any European country may apply for membership if it respects the democratic values of the EU and is committed to promoting them. But for five EU member states Kosovo is not a country.
If the EU accepts that Kosovo can submit an application, this amounts to considering it an independent state. Such a step is unlikely to be supported by all the non-recognising EU members. If the EU, alternatively, tells Kosovo that it is not eligible to apply, it exposes openly that Kosovo has no EU perspective. This would undermine pro-European reformers among Kosovo's political elite, and thereby further slow down reform efforts. It would also reduce the EU's already weakened leverage.
Kosovo's socio-economic problems are huge. In many areas clear government policies are lacking. There is the issue of relations with Kosovo's Serbs. Kosovo cannot overcome these challenges alone. What would really help is a clear and credible EU membership perspective. But for Kosovo this perspective is far more elusive than for all other countries in the Western Balkans.
ESI has written about Kosovo since 2000. We studied deindustrialization and privatisation. We looked at decline and conflict in Mitrovica. We wrote about urban planning after 1999 in Pristina, when the town's chief urban planner, Rexhep Luci, was killed for confronting illegal construction.
Perhaps our must important report on Kosovo was Cutting the Lifeline. It was based on intensive field research on patriarchal family structures and the impact of migration in rural Kosovo. It became the basis for a documentary film in 2008. In a recent essay, Of Patriarchs and Rebels, we re-visit the topic of patriarchy and power from the perspective of two young Kosovar women.
NEW: Of Patriarchs and Rebels (2014)