It is still unclear what EU concessions made Tadic modify his UN resolution. It would have been foolish if this had been only about EU membership. Serbia has seen moments of EU friendliness before after the fall of Milosevic, after his extradition and after the extradition of Karadzic, to name just a few of them. Typical of those moments is that they pass and after some time the EU returns to its usual anti-Serb moods. If Serbia wants to improve its chances for EU membership it would do better to attack crime, corruption and bureaucracy.
In this context it may be good to remember what made the Ahtisaari negotiations fail. Ahtisaari bound himself to the "principles" of the Kosovo Contact Group, that included that Kosovo's borders might not be changed. He added his own "principle" that Kosovo should never again be under Serbian rule. The consequence was that there was nothing left to negotiate. The Albanians already had their independence virtually conceded and saw no need to do any more concessions than strictly needed to keep the internationals happy. Seeing the internationals blocking a border change in the north and applying no pressure at all on the Albanians to do real concessions Serbia saw no reason to do concessions from its side.
Since then the Western countries have repeated pressed for "technical" negotiations on "practical issues". They wanted Serbia to do concessions so that Kosovo could function as much as possible as a normal state. They forgot that these are Serbia's negotiation chips and that in addition any concession from Serbia on these items could easily be interpreted as giving up on Kosovo. Kosovo's leadership didn't help as they didn't even try to make some meaningful concessions in return. It is also good to remember that many of the Kosovo Albanian complaints are self-inflicted wounds. This applies for example to the custom stamps and forms that Kosovo insists on maintaining despite the economic damage.
The big question is whether the coming negotiations will be any different. Will the EU pressure the Albanians for meaningful concessions or will they simply continue their past policy of pressuring Serbia for concessions while accepting the Albanian excuse that any concession from their side would be a violation of their "sovereignty"? In that case the negotiations will be just as doomed as the Ahtisaari negotiations and the negotiations on technical issues.
The first rumors are not very good. Enlargement Commissioner Fuele's agenda would include the same practical issues as previous negotiations.
We will soon know...
In the mean time it is good to remember why the Ahtisaari Plan was not such a good idea. It is a very detailed plan that gives Kosovo's Serbs many specific rights. There are three problems with this:
- The first is that it is not very difficult for any Albanian with a grudge against Serbs to find holes in those rights and ways to hit at the Serbs. The recent attempt by a Kosovo minister to forbid the minibuses that connect the Serb enclaves with Serbia are a good example. The attempt was thwarted by the internationals - but they will not always be around.
- The second problem is that virtually no one knows all those details - certainly not the internationals who tend to be replaced after a a year or so. This has given the Kosovo government the freedom to ignore much of those details. It has also given it the freedom to pretend that it has implemented much of the Ahtisaari Plan while in fact there is a lot left to do.
- The third problem is that the Ahtisaari Plan pretends that in Kosovo the rule of law is reigning supreme. This ignores the about 220,000 refugees who cannot return, the rampant discrimination on the labor market, the thousands of remaining property disputes where minorities are usually the damaged party, the continuing complaints of pressure to leave and sell your property and the continuing complaints about lack of safety. Not to mention the sometimes dubious neutrality of the Albanian ruled police and judges... Given those circumstances it would be best to err on the side of too much autonomy.
A good example is education: a sensible plan would give the Serbs total control over their education and allow Pristina only to make some marginal demands like learning the topography of Kosovo and a bit of the Albanian language - with only limited sanctions when this is not done. Instead the Ahtisaari Plan has given Pristina much more power and Pristina has regularly abused that power to close schools. According to Ahtisaari Pristina has the right to reject Serb schoolbooks. I think this is nonsense: the Serbs don't have the right to reject Albanian schoolbooks that they don't like. By establishing a one-sided right in en ethnic conflict Ahtisaari opens the floodgates to abuses.
The Western countries often mention that Serbia should "accept reality". They might do better by starting to accept reality themselves: at the moment in Kosovo the climate for minorities is so hostile that one can speak of soft ethnic cleansing and that it is generally expected that their communities will slowly die out as the young have no choice but to leave Kosovo for work. This happens in many new states - specially after a war - so to a certain extent it may be unavoidable. But that doesn't take away the responsibility of the international community to its best to protect those minorities. In this respect Serbia's demands for border changes in the north and better minority rights are certainly reasonable.
As long as the West refuses to accept this reality I remain pessimist about the negotiations.