European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini defended on Friday discussions between the presidents of Kosovo and Serbia about border changes even as Germany warned they would “tear open too many old wounds.”
Speaking to reporters after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Vienna, Mogherini highlighted broad support among member countries for an ongoing EU-mediated dialogue between the former wartime foes.
She also sought to reassure skeptics about a land swap between the two countries —floated by Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić last weekend — by insisting the EU would only accept a deal in line with international and EU law.
But Mogherini also declared that if a deal meets those conditions, the EU would recognize it — a controversial position, given Berlin and other EU capitals have expressed fears that a land swap could trigger violent campaigns for other border changes in the Balkans.
Any border change would form part of a peace deal to tackle issues unresolved by the 1998-1999 war that ended Serb control of Kosovo. Serbia continues to regard Kosovo, whose population is mainly ethnic Albanian, as a rebel province and Belgrade’s ally Russia has blocked the country’s path to U.N. membership.
“European history is based on overcoming and preventing any idea of ethnically pure nation states” — Federica Mogherini
Both countries aspire to join the EU but Brussels has made clear they must resolve all bilateral disputes before that can happen.
“Whatever outcome that is mutually agreed would get our support provided it is — as it’s being discussed currently — in line with international law and with European Union acquis [legal order],” Mogherini said.
“European history is based on overcoming and preventing any idea of ethnically pure nation states, I hope this reassures everybody that’s getting nervous on ideas that are floating around,” she added.
But, on the way into the meeting, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas made clear Berlin thinks negotiating borders is a big mistake.
“We don’t believe discussions about an exchange of territories between Kosovo and Serbia would be productive,” Maas said. “We believe that would tear open too many old wounds among the population. That’s why we are very skeptical about that.”
Maas is not the only minister to express misgivings about the idea. “It can have a very, very negative effect on other countries in this region,” said Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn, the longest-serving EU foreign minister currently in office.
Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl also expressed “great skepticism” and said the way the idea could be perceived, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, could be “explosive.”
“If you start opening something up then you’re going back to square one and that brings no one forward,” she said. “The problems in the region are not just territorial.”
Neither Vučić nor Thaçi has provided details of what they are considering. But a land swap has been floated by some analysts and politicians for years. Under the most commonly discussed scenario, part of northern Kosovo, which is predominantly inhabited by Serbs, would be allocated to Serbia. In return, the Preševo Valley area of southern Serbia, which is home mainly to ethnic Albanians, would become part of Kosovo.
“The best solution is to have a bilateral understanding between Serbia and Kosovo” — Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Meleșcanu
Mogherini stressed any EU-backed deal would not just be about borders. “The agreement we are working on is an agreement that would be legally binding and that would solve all outstanding issues,” she said.
That would imply Serbia recognizing Kosovo as an independent country, which would in turn put pressure on the five EU members that do not recognize Kosovo to change their stances.
“The best solution is to have a bilateral understanding between Serbia and Kosovo, it will also help us very much — other countries who have not recognized Kosovo — to arrive at a final decision about it,” Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Meleșcanu told reporters on his way to the meeting.