By Nicasia Picciano, PhD, @NicasiaPi ,
30 October 2023, dtt-net.com – The 10th edition of the Berlin process took place, on 16 of October, in Tirana. It was the first time that such a format, bringing together Western Balkans and EU leaders, took place in the region. Its main purpose is to boost regional relations and possibly speed up the EU integration process. It provides a framework for addressing the key reforms and criteria for EU membership.
The Berlin Process, a locally owned initiative, was launched by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014. Complementary to the enlargement process and conceived at the start as a temporary replacement to the enlargement fatigue under former European Commissioner Claude Juncker, the Berlin Process has been initiated to help the Western Balkans working together their main aspiration: EU membership and initially started with infrastructure projects co-funded by the European bloc. In short, it is an additional aid to the institutional process of EU integration.
Up to now many efforts have been channelled into infrastructure (i.e., connectivity and energy projects), with due traceability and transparency issues, and youth projects (i.e., Youth Forum) added to the list of regional cooperation.
Fragile peace undermined by Russia’s ally
Yet, it seems that bilateral relations especially those between Kosovo and Serbia do still represent a big hurdle. But EU leaders are aware of the importance of keeping the Western Balkans up on their agenda, above all following the Russian aggression in Ukraine and its possibly destabilizing effects, via its fellow brother Serbia, in the region.
The German chancellor Olaf Scholz said, at the Tirana summit, that “the future of the Western Balkans is in the European Union.”
More than ever the need for boosting and deepening intra-regional cooperation and reconciliation are key for any future integration process in the light of the recent terrorist attack in the north of Kosovo. The hideous aggression is a firm reminder of how peace is still fragile in the country and the region. Also, it is a warning about a stuck imbalanced negotiation process carried out over the years. This should be reshaped and rebooted immediately.
At the summit, tensions between Serbia and Kosovo were acknowledged with a collective call for dialogue and reconciliation. The participants highlighted the importance of good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation for EU integration. The latest tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have been strongly condemned.
Serbia turning toward Moscow and Beijing
Also, while the EU and Western Balkan leaders gathered in the Albanian capital, the Serbian President Alexander Vucic joined his fellow brother Xi Jinping and briefly met Vladimir Putin in Chinese capital.
He sent to Tirana Berlin Process summit the Prime Minister Ana Brnabić instead, who didn`t show up in the group photo meeting in front of the Pyramid, a regional tech hub inaugurated last May, with her regional and EU peers. Such a “coincidence” is indicative of Serbia`s unwillingness to a constructive standing in the region and with the EU and its rapidly growing interest for stronger political and economic ties with Russia and China.
Despite the recent unhappy events, the Tirana summit`s participants reiterated that enlargement is an investment in peace and prosperity. It is time to keep a promise for the Western Balkans to finally join the EU family with the argument, though, that there is no cooperation without reconciliation. And this asks for political courage and sincere focus on the future.
It is the moment to act and not to carry out business as usual.
Inevitably, the Berlin Process does represent an opportunity and it is an added value for the region to show political commitment to this initiative.
A missed opportunity by the EU in Tirana and the dead dialogue in Brussels
Yet, the 10th edition in Tirana has missed the chance of discussing in concrete about the urgent need of rebooting the dialogue process between Serbia and Kosovo. The current format dialogue, chaired by a biased leadership, is dead and this must have been acknowledged once and for all. Also, the summit should have made it clear that any further advancement for Serbia towards the EU is conditional upon its commitment to be accountable for what happened and to contribute to justice in this regard on the one hand, and its acceptance of Kosovo as an independent and sovereign country on the other hand.
The Tirana summit has missed the opportunity of being the initiator of an urgent re-booting of the dialogue process between Kosovo and Serbia. Yet, apart from condemning the recent September attack nothing has been discussed in concrete.
In Tirana the EU and WB leaders should have adopted a common and joint declaration also condemning the attack, instead of single interventions about it. The EU should have seized the moment. But it missed it in the practice.
Specifically, the joint declaration should have contained the following points: Kosovo`s accession must be immediately decoupled from Serbia`s will; the EU non-recognizers must recognize Kosovo without delay; the Srpska Lista should be banned; punitive measures should be applied on Serbia.
At the Tirana summit it has been noticed that the EU has requested a detailed investigation regarding the attack on 24 September and only after that a decision for Serbia will be taken. Yet, there are tangible proves that Belgrade is behind the infamous act. Why still procrastinating?
EU weakness risks fuelling more terrorist attacks in Western Balkans
It seems that the EU wants to gain time about a certainty that, in fact, already exists. This modus operandi is rather a sign of weakness and short-sightedness. The recent attack in the north of Kosovo must not be condoned if Brussels wants to keep its credibility as a regional and global actor high. This ask for a firm and immovable position, but not for hesitation.
Any further “both-sidism” approach and appeasement will only encourage further aggression and state-sponsored terrorism in the region and beyond.
The Tirana summit could have been the right platform for launching a paradigm shift of finally putting an end to stabilitocracy. Yet, it came up with general statements in the end. But only if things are spoken out loud and properly addressed, there might be a change.
To be said otherwise, the Banjska terrorist attack was not an incident. It was a state-sponsored terrorism. And this must be punished. Also, Kosovo should not further engage in the dialogue until Serbia is not sanctioned and made accountable.
Nicasia Picciano holds a Phd on European Union state-building in Kosovo from the University of Flensburg, Germany. She is the author of the book the European Union State-Building in Kosovo. Challenges and Lessons Learned: An Assessment of EULEX, Dr. Kovač, Hamburg. She has previously worked as a researcher for Kosovo Foundation for Open Society, Prishtina, Group for Legal and Political Studies, Prishtina and Balkans Policy Research Group, Prishtina. Currently, she covers the Western Balkans for Sbunker (Prishtina) and Le Courrier des Balkans (Paris). Her research interests span from peace- and state-building, reconciliation and ethnic conflict, cultural tourism, green energy transition, the Berlin Process and the Connectivity Agenda in Kosovo and the Western Balkans.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of dtt-net.com