A Leaders Meeting Without Leaders’ Decisions

A Leaders Meeting Without Leaders’ Decisions
Photo: БГНЕС

Almost on the eve of the European Parliament elections, the leaders of Germany and France tried to attract the attention of the continental public to problems of increased difficulty. Whether Merkel and Macron had a real desire to give a new impetus to some long ignored issues for the Community, or simply tried to outline their leading position in the largest inter-state union, is a matter of interpretation. It is unquestionable, however, that the just-completed Berlin-based top level forum on the Western Balkans has yielded modest results, but has succeeded in creating the impression that something notable is happening along the Berlin-Paris axis. Some have branded this phenomenon as a “flow of consensus fluids“, and others have found that the German-French tandem strives to embody the two major motors of the European Union which has found itself into a zone of serious turbulence.

The attempt to impose solutions that impress with their timeliness and rationality, has proved unsuccessful

The objective reading of the effect of the meeting in Berlin points to several main conclusions. Yes, Germany and France managed to gather impressive political representation of countries aspiring to the European Union but also of selected European mentors who would not oppose the organizers’ will. However, the attempt to impose solutions that impress with their timeliness and rationality, has proved unsuccessful. At this stage, the accumulated contradictions and poor efficiency of European bureaucracy seem to be stronger.

Moreover, the stubborn Franco-German resistance to quicker accession of new countries to full membership in the European Union has become quite demotivating for Euro-candidates from the Western Balkans. They were once again left not only disappointed, but somewhat amazed at Macron’s conception that security is now the priority, not the enlargement of the Union. Should it be surprising then that the antagonists in the European zone and beyond demonstrate a hardening of their positions. And they do not perceive their exclusion from the “Privileged Club” as a way to greater security and stability.

The focus of the Berlin Forum was the relationship between Belgrade and Pristina, related to Kosovo’s disputed independence and all concomitant processes stemming from the frozen conflict. In this regard, the organizers were probably led by the idea of promoting a personal contact between the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo – Vucic and Thaci, which was almost interrupted in the latest phase of the so-called “Brussels process“. However, the objective reading of what happened in the German capital shows that the results in this respect are very modest. The two leaders remained in their positions, and there was even a certain retreat from the fragile symptoms of agreement on the need for demarcation of the border.

It is well known that different external interests are interwoven on the Balkans and changing lines of influence run as a current through it

The reasons for this reaction can be interpreted in two directions. On the one hand, both Thaci and Vucic are unable to disregard the influential international factor, even if pro forma they are demonstrating an independent policy. It is well known that different external interests are interwoven on the Balkans and changing lines of influence run as a current through it. Should it then be surprising that the virtually “frozen conflict”, loaded with some potential for escalation of tension, is not brought out of the freezer at this stage? Moreover, what prevents Vucic from sacrificing part of the Presevo valley in exchange for the acquisition of territories from northern Kosovo inhabited predominantly by Serbs? Or, who made Thaci demonstrate, at least in words, that his young country, on the one hand, does not give up territory to Serbia at all, but on the other – to declare that it will also fight for the strategically important valley of Presevo, Bujanovac, and even for the Medvedja municipality, inhabited mainly by Serbs?

On a regional level, we should not also ignore the unconcealed ambition of influential political figures in Albania for ethnic unification of the Albanian factor in the Balkan region

These are the issues with no particular difficulty for those who are well informed about intricacies between Belgrade and Pristina. And the answers say that the symptoms of warming or freezing of relations between Serbia and Kosovo are still submissive to the geostrategic interests of the US and Russia, of the big players in the EU, but also of China’s already not so quiet economic invasion. On a regional level, we should not also ignore the unconcealed ambition of influential political figures in Albania (Prime Minister Edi Rama) for ethnic unification of the Albanian factor in the Balkan region. This process, which has been increasingly successful in attracting Kosovo, has a strong potential for causing Balkan-wide tensions in the medium term, by engaging countries such as Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro, and, why not, indirectly Bulgaria.

The other factor for the hardening the positions of Vucic and Thaci at the Berlin meeting can be found in attempts to exploit the platform of the forum for domestic political aims. Undoubtedly, the Serbian leader is still subjected to moderate pressure from the opposition through periodic protests in Belgrade and other major cities in Serbia. The visible retreat of the president from his recent declarations in favor of demarcation of the border with Kosovo practically deprives his opponents of one of their important arguments. It is well known that Vucic’s opponents are against any border changes, along with their traditional calls for the rule of law, fight against corruption, freedom of speech and media, and the elimination of the authoritarian style of government.

Thaci’s domestic political aim by retreating from his idea of land-swapping is linked to the decline in his popularity connected with the long-simmering conflict with prime minister Ramush Haradinaj and his followers and supporters. Since the disagreement was based on the Kosovo president’s declared readiness for territorial adjustment, a process of convergence between him and the executive power of the young state could now be expected. It is noteworthy, however, that both Haradinaj and Thaci do not hide their attachment to the US factor, which does not exclude Washington’s influence on the stand taken by the Kosovo rulers at the Berlin forum.

Paris and Berlin have the ambitions to fill the vacuum in Europe’s governing structures exposing their ever more frequent ineffectiveness, connected to Brexit, and the conflicting messages coming from some member countries

Beyond the concrete discussions at the Berlin forum, the political observers could not leave unnoticed the desire of Germany and France to form a leading European axis for initiatives but also for managing certain processes on the continent. Their specific views, not always coinciding with those of the EU on important issues of the day, point to the shaping leadership by Berlin and Paris. For poorer countries, including those in the community, these tendencies are perceived as a manifestation of formation of a distinct center as well as a periphery of the EU. This process has many critics and contradicts the fundamental principles of equality of EU member countries.

Perhaps aware of such a reaction, the organizers of the Berlin Summit also pointed out the importance of the EU for the future work on the issues under discussion, including the resumption of the Brussels process for regulating relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Scheduling a summit in Paris this summer suggests that the leaders of France and Germany intend to institutionalize their “own” process. In doing so, they demonstrate their ambition to fill the vacuum in Europe’s governing structures exposing their ever more frequent ineffectiveness, connected to Brexit, and the conflicting messages coming from some member countries.

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