European Council on Foreign Relations

Serbia’s accession talks – where’s the drama?

In recent years we got used to seeing Greek top officials as heralds of doom and gloom but today Greek foreign minister Elefterios Venizelos had a pretty good reason to look cheerful. Not least because, as the holder rotating president of the Council of the EU (no, the Lisbon Treaty did not quite abolish that presidency), Greece could oversee the launch of accession negotiations with Serbia. A fellow Balkan country most Greeks sympathise with - for the right or wrong reasons. Ivica Dačić, Serbia’s prime minister, and Aleksandar Vučić, his deputy who is seen as the real powerholder in Belgrade, were equally jubilant. The EU’s reputation may have been in decline since the euro crisis broke out, but the Western Balkans are clearly the exception. Since coming into office in July 2012, Serbia’s coalition government did invest effort and political capital to make it to this point.  Today’s

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EU enlargement and the Western Balkans: Old habits die hard

When they meet this week, the European Union heads of state and government will be hard-pressed to thrash out agreements on pressing topics such as the banking union to keep the euro alive and European defence given the impending demilitarisation of Europe. In passing, they might even devote a few thoughts on a global strategy to stem Europe's geopolitical decline. It is no wonder that enlargement falls at the very bottom of the issues for this European Council, to the point that one can hardly find it in the agenda. Potentially relevant decisions are expected, such as a candidate (or pre-candidate status, to be confirmed in 2014) to Albania and a date for starting Serbia’s accession talks.

Member states are logically distracted by sexier geopolitical themes, such as Iran or Syria. Enlargement, once a shared European foreign policy, nowadays suffers from three factors: poisoned

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Kosovo’s local elections should make Ashton happy

Normally local elections anywhere are a rather dull affair. You can’t expect much international interest, even if the contest is a dry run for a general vote somewhere down the line. Not so in Kosovo, where mending ties between Prishtina and Belgrade goes through reintegration of the mainly Serb-populated North – as foreseen under the Brussels Agreement brokered by Catherine Ashton and her team.

The first round on 3 November was marred by violence in the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica where masked men stormed polling stations.  Vigilantes patrolling the street ensured that few voters would turn out at the ballot box, despite calls from Belgrade to the opposite. The election was annulled in three poling stations in northern Mitrovica pending a re-run.

But alarmist headlines were somewhat misleading. The first round went well in other Serb municipalities around Mitrovica,

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EU enlargement: No time for complacency

It is October again, and it’s time for the European Commission to publish its annual assessment of how enlargement is faring. This time there are reasons to be upbeat. The Brussels agreement between Serbia and Kosovo is arguably the most convincing coup for the EU's foreign policy - and a success for Ashton's EEAS in particular. Albania went through a smooth government change, after a series of contested elections in the past years. And according to the Commission Serbia can reasonably hope to kick start membership talks in early 2014. But to no one's surprise, the ultimate decision will be taken in Berlin - and not Brussels. Enlargement was more or less put on hold till after the 22 September elections; now aspiring countries have to be patient until Angela Merkel cobbles together a grand coalition. However, candidate status is within reach for Albania, pending what the December

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Germia Hill 2: Kosovo - From object to subject?

For two decades the Western Balkans have been in the spotlight of international politics. Wehave got used to the dramatic events after the dissolution of Yugoslavia: the rise of nationalism, ethnic conflicts and wars in the 1990s, NATO intervention, EU and UN missions, war crimes and trials in The Hague, (external) state-building in Bosnia Herzegovina, and finally the independence of Kosovo. The problems of the region used to be the problems of the world. But this is changing. Despite having a presence in the region, the international community seems to have lost interest. This vacuum is both a danger and an opportunity. It is dangerous because the various regional problems can easily escalate – and it is an opportunity as local ownership is desperately needed if any progress is to be made in the region.

The Germia Hill conference (organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of

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