The European Union should immediately close the Pandora box of further talks about the redrawing of the Balkan borders and offer Serbia, Kosovo and all other Balkan countries a credible plan on how they can join the common European market by 2025, a report by the European Stability Initiative (ESI) think tank said.
The report was published ahead of Monday’s summit on stability in the Western Balkans in Berlin. It is supposed to focus on the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia as well as on economic relations, connectivity and regional cooperation in Southeast Europe.
Along with the summit organisers - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, the summit will be attended by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Sarec and leaders of six Western Balkan countries - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.
The EU will be represented by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, who will stand in for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who cannot attend due to his other obligations.
"The European Union should immediately close the Pandora box of further talks on redrawing Balkan borders,” the think-tank advised.
“At the same time, the EU needs to agree on credible strategies on how Serbia, Kosovo and the rest of the Balkans can move forward towards integration with the rest of Europe. It is a matter of war and peace that this vision remains credible," said the report, which analyses in detail the current situation and tensions in relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
After years of talks under the auspices of the EU, relations between Pristina and Belgrade are worse now than they used to be when the dialogue started.
The report, titled "The Hypnotist – Aleksandar Vucic, John Bolton and the return of the past," deals for the most part with the idea of a territory exchange as the solution to the normalisation of Serbia-Kosovo relations.
The report says that in August 2018, at a conference in the Austrian village of Alpbach, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci first told the public that they were close to a breakthrough in their talks on a deal between Serbia and Kosovo which would involve some unspecified border changes.
The idea was met with understanding by some European diplomats, and since 2018 it has also been supported in the United States after John Bolton became President Donald Trump's advisor on national security.
On the other hand, the idea was immediately strongly dismissed by Chancellor Merkel.
The report noted that the change in the US position was welcomed in Serbia as “a historic turn, (and) a historic success" as until then Washington had considered the Kosovo issue resolved.
The ESI report said that Serbian President Vucic uses one type of rhetoric for his international interlocutors and another for the domestic public, and cites war-mongering statements of his ministers.
Vucic is described as a person who "can be charming" and is "a good actor".
The report explained in detail why the idea of territory exchange is dangerous for the stability of Southeast Europe and recommended that the EU rejects it and reaffirms the principles that led the EU to open accession talks with Serbia in 2014, which included the gradual normalisation of relations with Kosovo.
"Germany and France should warn Aleksandar Vucic that the war-mongering by Serbian government ministers has to stop. Threats to intervene militarily in North Kosovo are unacceptable."
"Germany, France and other EU members should make clear that they are prepared to take more responsibility for security in the Balkans. If at any moment the US president decides to withdraw US troops from Kosovo, Europeans should be prepared to step in and reinforce their presence," ESI said in the report.
It stressed that none of the Western Balkan countries is likely to join the EU before 2025 and recommended that they be should offered a concrete plan giving them a clear prospect of membership.
The plan should cover the period from 2020 to 2025, which starts with a new European Commission and the rotating presidencies of Croatia and Germany.
One of the goals that could be set for all Western Balkan countries is to meet the required standards to become full members of the EU's common market by 2025. This would promote reforms and increase the attractiveness of the region for investors, according to the report.
"In parallel to countries making measurable progress on reaching this goal, as well as making progress on the rule of law, minority rights and good neighbourly relations, they should be included in EU regional and cohesion policies.
"At the same time, the EU should support the region moving towards a Western Balkans Schengen area by 2030, with the concrete goal of no further need for internal controls. Balkan borders should truly become invisible," said the report.