OpEd

What happened after Lajçak?

Four years of Miroslav Lajcak's mandate as the special envoy for the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia have not brought the intended solution. He is not the only one to blame. But now the relations between Kosovo and Serbia are not at all more normal than four years ago. And now in the EU there are also those who ask if it is worth having a special envoy for dialogue, spending so much on his team, and not having any added value. Therefore, before deciding on Lajcak's successor, the EU should decide what they want to do with the dialogue.

Exactly four years have passed since then the Foreign Minister of Slovakia, Mirolslav Lajčak, with extensive experience in the Western Balkans region, started his mandate as the EU's special representative for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, with the mandate to mediate in achieving a comprehensive normalization of relations between these two countries. The EU insisted on his appointment so urgently that the Council's decision stated that "the mandate starts immediately". And the mandate started on April 1. Like many others at that time, when there was a total shutdown due to measures to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lajçak also started working from home. In addition to the mandate for him personally, the EU also approved a considerable budget for Lajçak to form his team.

The ambitions were great and understandable, since the dialogue for almost ten years had not marked any major progress in the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. It was said that Lajcak should facilitate the reaching of an agreement for the comprehensive normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. He himself said that this should be achieved "within a few months and not years". Until then, the dialogue was handled by the team in the EU's External Action Service (EEAS) and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy herself. Because the relations between Kosovo and Serbia were undoubtedly a security challenge for the region of vital importance for the EU and also a priority issue of the EU's common foreign policy. 

"Now we have one person who deals only with this issue 24 hours a day and seven days a week", said the senior EU diplomats.

Even though there were diplomats who said that "this post was created for Lajcak", mentioning that it was known even when he was the Foreign Minister of Slovakia that he will take that post, without any doubt he was seen as the right person. He spent several years in the structures of the European Union as a managing director. He had experience as a senior international representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He spoke the Serbian language fluently. He also had great experience in relations with Russia as a former student of Moscow. At that time, it was believed that Russia will also support the solution and Kosovo will be admitted to the UN after the agreement. For this purpose, he also kept the Russian ambassador to the EU in Brussels informed about the progress of the dialogue. Lajcak was also against the idea of ​​exchanging territory. For this, he received the support of Germany, which he still enjoys today. Germany was even so much behind Lajcak that it ordered the Kosovars that "whoever is against Lajcak is also against Germany". Prime Minister Albin Kurti in his first term also called not to prejudice Lajçak based on the country he comes from. And here there were some reservations, because Lajcak came from Slovakia, a country which did not recognize Kosovo and which had argued against Kosovo's independence at the International Court of Justice at the time when Lajcak was the head of diplomacy of this country. And he did not take into account the opinion of the ICJ that the declaration of Kosovo's independence did not violate international law or Resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council. Doubts about Lajcak's impartiality became a topic, albeit quietly, even more so since his boss, high representative Borrell, came from a country that does not know Kosovo. From Spain, which had an even more opposing attitude than Slovakia. While Borrelli personally had episodes from the past where he boycotted meetings in which Kosovo participated. But the work started with ambition, with the reasoning that now they "implement the policies of the EU and not of their member countries".

Now after four years, Lajcak has been appointed ambassador of the European Union in Switzerland. It will represent the EU in a country which is not in the EU, but is closely connected to the EU. Lajcak has five more months in this role, and during these months there may be a turn in the dialogue and finish the mandate successfully.     

Four years of Miroslav Lajcak's mandate as the special envoy for the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia have not brought the intended solution. He is not the only one to blame. But now the relations between Kosovo and Serbia are not at all more normal than four years ago. And now in the EU there are also those who ask if it is worth having a special envoy for dialogue, spending so much on his team, and not having any added value. Therefore, before deciding on Lajcak's successor, the EU should decide what they want to do with the dialogue. Whether or not there should be a special envoy just for dialogue, with a large team. Or should this task be returned to a team within the EEAS as it was before Lajcaku was appointed. This will likely be decided during the summer when the results of the European elections that take place in June are known. And after those elections, the composition of the European Commission and the main positions in other EU institutions will be known more or less. But there is no doubt that there will be a need, even more than before, for a special care of the EU and its member countries for the relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Because those reports, apart from being necessary for their journey towards the EU, are also important for the peace and stability of the region. The clash of violent Serbs with KFOR soldiers and the attacks in Banjska in September, which the EU itself called terrorist attacks, are sufficient reminders of this.