Three weeks after the terrorist attack in Banjska, North Kosovo, the European Union has refrained from imposing sanctions on Serbia, even as the sanctions against Kosovo, imposed prior to the attack, remain in place.
The European Commission has abstained from imposing sanctions on Belgrade in the aftermath of the events that unfolded on September 24. During these events, armed terrorists crossed the border from Serbia into Kosovo, engaging the Kosovo police in a violent confrontation that resulted in the death of one police officer, wounding of two others and the death of three attackers.
Instead of immediate sanctions, the EU has opted to await the final results of investigations by Kosovo authorities.
The EU called Prishtina and Belgrade for a return to the dialogue, as the only platform to resolve their issues and ‘there is no way around it’.
But, neither Kosovo nor Serbia appears eager to further engage in the dialogue. While Kosovo has refused to meet Serbia before sanctions are imposed, Serbia has declined any form of collaboration regarding the events of September 24.
For Kosovo, the dialogue is no longer a top priority, according to Kosovo Assembly Speaker Glauk Konjufca, in light of the aftermath of the September attack. Security now takes precedence, he stated on Wednesday.
Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani has issued a warning that if the Euro-Atlantic community does not take measures against Serbia, the lack of punishment may embolden Serbia to engage in further hostile actions.
Serbia has denied any involvement in the attack, which Kosovo authorities have described as an “attempt to annex the north of Kosovo.”
Results of investigations before considering sanctions
The EU ambassador to Kosovo, Tomáš Szunyog, in an interview with investigative journalist Jeta Xharra on Sunday confirmed that the EU is awaiting for the final report of investigation, before considering sanctions.
“Even Serbian institutions have acknowledged that this man [Milan Radoicic] came to Kosovo, that it was this man who did the terrorist attack. He confessed he was there, fully armed[…] this is undisputed. Yet, this is not enough [proof] to take measures?” asked Xharra, the EU Ambassador.
The EU needs to see more “concrete evidence” before deciding on potential measures against Serbia, emphasized the EU ambassador.
Kosovo authorities have presented evidence linking Milan Radoicic, the now-resigned vice president of the Serbian List, to the attack. The evidence includes drone footage that shows Radoicic at Banjska Monastery alongside other paramilitary individuals on the day of the attack and drone footage depicting the paramilitaries preparing in Serbian military bases.
Prishtina Insight reached out to Kosovo Police to inquire about the release date of the final investigation report but had not received a response at the time of this article’s publication.
Radoicic himself has admitted participation in the attack, and then resigned his political post as vice president of the Serbian List, largest political party of local Serbs in Kosovo.
Kosovo Government spokesperson Perparim Kryeziu emphasized that the events on September 24 constituted a severe violation of state sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national security.
“What is necessary to happen now is to guarantee security for Kosovo and impose sanctions on Serbia,” Kryeziu told Prishtina Insight on Wednesday.
EU spokesperson Peter Stano confirmed on Tuesday, that no sanctions will be imposed on Serbia, before they see the final results of the full investigation. “When the investigations are finished, and the EU has the results, and has a clear picture of what happened and who is behind it, then the member states will decide on other steps,” the EU spokesperson said.
Serbia reluctant to cooperate in the investigation
Despite calls for cooperation in the investigation of the September 24 events, Serbia has shown no intention of doing so.
In an interview with Sky News, asked about why authorities do not extradite Radoicic to Kosovar authorities, Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic responded: “Are you kidding?”.
Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo’s statehood has posed challenges when cooperating on the investigations, but the EU has claimed there are multiple ways in which countries could cooperate to share information that help the investigation, if there is a will from parties.
“If there is a will, there is a way”, said the EU spokesperson, without commenting on the declaration of Vucic.
EU measures against Kosovo still retained
In June, the EU announced a package of ‘reversible’ measures against Kosovo, citing its failure to restore calm in the Serb-majority north. Some of the measures included suspension of high-level visits, contacts and events as well as financial cooperation with Kosovo.
Stressing that these “are no sanctions”, EU spokesperson, Peter Stano, added that, “despite our repeated calls, Prime Minister Kurti has so far failed to take decisive steps and actions to de-escalate” the tense situation in the Serb-majority north, during May.
Kurti had proposed a five-steps proposal for de-escalation, but the EU said that this proposal failed “to adequately address some key elements which triggered, are the route cause of the latest crisis, and which we expect him to address urgently with decisive measures”.
The EU asked Kosovo to suspend police operations in the vicinity of the municipal buildings in the north of Kosovo and hold new elections in North Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok, saying that “we expect Kosovo Serbs to take part in these elections”. The last elections in the North of Kosovo were boycotted by Kosovo Serbs, leading to the election of Kosovo-Albanian mayors.
As a response to EU’s demands, Kosovo decreased the number of forces from municipal buildings, has not announced a plan for new elections.
On Tuesday, the EU spokesperson confirmed the measures are still in place, as “the Member States have not yet seen enough meaningful steps towards deescalation”.
A declaration by Croatian President, Zoran Milanovic, following his meeting with President Osmani, on Tuesday, indicated that not all member states support the decision of the EU’s High Representative.
“I invite [member] states to boycott them[the measures]. They are measures taken from the European Commission, and from mr. Borrell, which I hope retires soon. So these are not measures taken from the Council of Ministers, but from Borrell and his team,” said the Croatian president.
The EU clarified to Prishtina Insight that all 27 member states supported the decision of the High Representative and were clear about the ‘expected approach to the dialogue and de-escalation, including the measures’.
“Until now, the EU has only applied the ‘stick’ to Kosovo, not penalizing Serbia in any way, even though this country is not lobbying for withdrawal, as much as for the prevention of possible recognition of Kosovo’s independence,” Agron Halitaj, a political pundit told Prishtina Insight.
“Publicly, the Serbian authorities declare that they will not implement the agreements for the normalization of relations with Kosovo, mediated by the EU, and everything is passed without any reaction, without any pressure and without any consequences”, he added.
A new dialogue with new mediators
Negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia have stagnated over the past few years, lacking the political will needed for the implementation of agreements signed in Brussels. Kosovo has consistently accused Serbia of failing to uphold the Brussels agreements, and domestically taking actions in direct contradiction.
“The terrorist, paramilitary, and criminal attack that occurred on September 24 serves as proof that, while discussions were underway in Brussels to implement the Basic Agreement based on de facto mutual recognition, Serbia was covertly formulating plans for the annexation of northern territories”, said Kryeziu, the government spokesperson.
Critics have raised concerns about the EU’s impartiality in the dialogue, accusing it of displaying biased actions.
But, both Miroslav Lajcak, the EU Special Representative for the Prishtina-Belgrade dialogue, and Joseph Borrell, the EU High Representative, face looming deadlines.
Miroslav Lajcak, who has previously served as Slovakia’s Foreign Minister in two administrations, is rumored to assume the mandate for a third time in the newly elected government led by leftist populist politician Fico. This week, Fico’s Smer party signed an agreement with two other parties, forming a majority in the Slovak parliament, as reported by the Associated Press.
High Representative Joseph Borrell is also looking towards the end of his mandate. The upcoming European Parliament elections, scheduled to take place from June 6 to 9, 2024, are expected to bring a new figure to the office of the EU High Representative.
Halitaj emphasizes that there are several steps that the EU must take in relation to Kosovo and Serbia.
He insists that Brussels should immediately block Serbia’s path to EU integration until the country demonstrates a constructive approach in its dealings with Kosovo, commits to implementing the agreements achieved during the dialogue process, and pledges to foster good neighborly relations with Kosovo.
“Without adopting different approaches to the parties involved, the EU will struggle to persuade them to reach a final agreement,” Halitaj concludes.