OpEd

Challenges of the Podujeva Declaration

Today, the question before Kosovo is not whether the connection of the dialogue with our integration path will remain, but how we will respond to this fate. In the end, Prime Minister Kurti himself has popularized the expression: "Europe is our continent and the European Union is our destiny". Now the time has come to test Prime Minister Kurti's faith in the fate that life has brought him

Podujeva, despite all its blessings, is not a special city. It is unlikely that history would have ever preserved any important place for the city of Podujeva. But sometimes history is also unpredictable, and thus last week the small town of Podujeva inadvertently became the epicenter of geopolitical friction. During Prime Minister Kurti's visit to Podujevë last week, he announced a new request for the European Union: Kosovo's integration path should be separated from dialogue. This is why historiography will probably archive this new momentum in Kosovo-EU relations under the title Podujeva Declaration.

Beyond cynicism, Prime Minister Kurti's request is noble and fair. There is no reason for Kosovo to pay the bills for Serbia's refusal to advance the dialogue. But as so often in politics, the fundamental question is not whether it is a noble and right thing, but whether it is possible and real.

Since the beginning of the dialogue, the European Union has been placed at its epicenter. This is also the reason why the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations of September 8, 2010 mandated the EU to lead the dialogue process with the aim that the dialogue will contribute to achieving "progress on the journey towards the European Union". And so, from the meetings and resolutions of the United Nations to the summits and conclusions of the EU Council, the principle of connection between the dialogue and the integration process of Kosovo and Serbia was cemented. Since 2010, every advancement of Kosovo and Serbia within the integration process has been linked to the dialogue process.

Since the declaration of Independence, Kosovo has sought the beginning of the establishment of contractual relations with the EU in the form of the Stabilization-Association Agreement as a first step towards EU membership. Every year, Kosovo has been denied the right to join the SAA on the grounds that this is impossible until Kosovo is recognized by the five non-recognizing EU countries. And so was the EU's reasoning year after year, until one day when everything suddenly changed. After reaching the first important agreements within the dialogue with Serbia, the EU suddenly changed its position and found a way to conclude the Stabilization-Association Agreement with Kosovo - despite the non-recognition of the five EU countries. Not only that, but very soon the EU and Kosovo also launched the visa liberalization dialogue. What was considered impossible for years, became possible in a few days. Reason: progress in dialogue.

It is the same today. Kosovo has submitted the request for membership in the EU, but that request has been dusted somewhere in the drawers of the European bureaucracy in the absence of progress within the dialogue. And of course, this conditionality of the integration path with dialogue may seem unfair to Kosovo. But if we look closely, we understand that the integration path of every country in the region is conditional on one thing, which seems unfair to the respective country. To Albania, the request for vetting seemed a very large and unfair request for this phase of the membership process. For North Macedonia, the request to change the name seems a very big and unfair request. Serbia sees the request for dialogue with Kosovo as a big and unfair request. And so on. And in fact, such a perception of aspiring countries for "unfair demands" is not new. Historically, the integration process has required aspiring countries to undertake painful reforms to join the EU. Thus, the countries of Central Europe had to undertake economic reforms, which seemed very unfair to their citizens in the 90s. The removal of the Italian lira or German mark is still considered an open wound in Italy and Germany. Closer to us, the citizens of Croatia have seen demands like Gotovina's arrest and the whole arbitration saga over the borders with Slovenia as deeply unjust demands. As a result, only 28% of Croatian citizens supported EU membership, according to the 2005 Eurobarometer.

Therefore, it is very important to learn from the history of the enlargement process and from neighboring countries. When the country is faced with difficult demands in the integration process, the cry of injustice is not helpful. When Croatia's integration path was faced with the "blackmail" of arbitration with Slovenia, it decided to take difficult decisions in the interest of its citizens. Today, Croatia is a success story. In essence, this is also the difference between a serious country and a cocky one: the capacity to make decisions that are unpopular today, but rewarding for the future.

Today, the question before Kosovo is not whether the connection of the dialogue with our integration path will remain, but how we will respond to this fate. In the end, Prime Minister Kurti himself has popularized the expression: "Europe is our continent, and the European Union is our destiny". Now the time has come to test Prime Minister Kurti's faith in the fate that life has brought him.