Exactly one year has passed since the heads of the two largest diplomacies in the EU, German and French, requested an “immediate” resumption of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. This call, more of a shout, somehow still stands in the air, and it “instantly” turned into “maybe”. It was a request full of optimism, which Heiko Mass and Jean-Yves Le Drian sent in a joint text through Belgrade’s Daily Blic and Pristina’s Koha Ditore, on the wings of the recent appointment of Miroslav Lajčák as the EU special envoy for the Kosovo dialogue.
A year later, this enthusiasm is gone. Apparently, it was not honest and realistic. It was just an attempt to take the Kosovo process from the hands of Donald Trump and his administration, which firmly seized it and began to manage it. Basically, another wasted year is behind us, it was “lost” because of the struggles between Western partners, and, of course, another internal crisis in Kosovo, which resulted in resignations and new elections.
We don’t have last year’s enthusiasm, but we have something new in sight. Something without a lot of emotions and oaths, but precisely because of that with a much higher chance of success. Miroslav Lajčák and Matthew Palmer, as European and American mediators in the Kosovo dialogue, are visiting Pristina and Belgrade together for the first time. Since the new administration in Washington announced that it would conduct all European affairs, including the Balkans, in cooperation (and not in conflict) with Europeans, the image of the two diplomats working together is the first tangible confirmation of the new policy from Washington.
The European Union has lost control of the Serbian-Albanian dialogue long time ago. After the initial progress and the agreements reached under Baroness Ashton, the mediation mandate of Federica Mogherini brought just existing, which ended with a complete blockade of the process and “entering” of Trump’s administration into the game. Everyone, it seems, wants to forget the “lost” years and reset the game, so that they can start from the point where solid ground can be seen for further construction. That is not zero, as they think in Pristina, where the government of Albin Kurti is checking all the agreements reached so far. His attempt to make a new delay with a general, and probably endless political debate on the results of the dialogue so far, does not deserve more serious attention. After all, Brussels and Washington have already drawn his attention to that several times.
This time Palmer and Lajčák will initiate things. We will see in which direction in mid-June, when they will meet with negotiators from Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels. No matter how much the dialogue is still officially called “under the auspices of the EU”, it has been formally conducted under the supervision of the EU and the USA since this week. Its European prefix will remain the main and unchanged until the end, but the essence of mediation has already changed. Americans will not be angry at all about this, and why should they, because the mediating format that is now entering the scene is their creation. And rightly, the European Union must be the framework in which the agreement will be built, and especially implemented, but it itself could not lead to results. Matthew Palmer and other American diplomats have been present at the negotiating rounds in Brussels so far, but they needed to get (take over) the official mediation chair at the table so that the job could be done.
Miroslav Lajčák will not be angry either that he got a partner and that he now works in a couple, and not alone. There is no doubt that it has been frustrating for this diplomat with international career to manage a process that he himself knows well will not bear fruit. Not because of himself, but because of the massive, passive and indecisive structure behind him which, in the end, named him. Including his immediate boss, Josep Borrell, the head of diplomacy of the European Union.
Lajčák should look forward to the American coming out from behind the screen and coming to the main stage, also because his mandate will remain without the most important and influential supporter, Angela Merkel, as early as September. It will be months until, after the German elections on September 26, the new German set is consolidated in the European power structure, and Lajčák and his Balkan job (as well as his career) cannot wait that long. For an ambitious Slovak, too much time has already passed without results to allow himself the luxury of a new wait.
That’s why, the new, European-American mediation will benefit everyone who really wants the longest-running Balkan conflict to soon find a lasting solution. America will be a factor that, with its influence and diplomatic power, will avoid all the traps of obstruction, delay and manipulation that marked the past decade of negotiations. This refers exclusively to the American attitude towards Pristina, since all the delays and obstructions of the current process come from there. Under active and visible American mediation, as it is now, there is very little room left for the maneuvers by which the previous Kosovo governments managed to freeze and even completely block the dialogue. Especially if the American mediation openly set the goal of reaching an agreement, and the Biden administration did that. In cooperation with the European Union, of course.
Palmer-Lajčák’s shuttle tours therefore already have much more meaning and effect in Pristina than they will have in Belgrade, where the door is wide open to their ambitions, and the goals are the same. Return to the dialogue and, step by step, seek for an agreement.