The price of normalisation: Serbia, Kosovo, and a risky border deal

One of the most contentious topics in the Western Balkans in recent months has been a proposed Serbia-Kosovo land swap. Under this “comprehensive deal”, Belgrade would regain control of disputed territory in North Kosovo and recognise the Republic of Kosovo as a state, while Kosovo would gain some municipalities in the Presevo Valley. For once, the sides seemed to be on a rational quest for a solution to a difficult regional problem. Yet, for other Balkans countries and many other observers, Serbia and Kosovo now seem intent on a deal that would set a dangerous precedent for redrawing national borders along ethnic lines (outside the extraordinary circumstances of military aggression and genocide seen in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s). This type of agreement would primarily threaten to destabilise Bosnia, Macedonia, and Montenegro – but it could also boost nationalists engaged in territorial disputes elsewhere in Europe, from Trieste to Transylvania and Tyrol.

Against this background, the European Commission adopted in February 2018 a strategy for enhancing engagement with the Western Balkans under which Serbia could have a shot at acceding to the European Union by 2025. However, the Commission has emphasised that this will only happen if Belgrade and Pristina normalise their relationship.

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(Photo: European Commission Audiovisual Services)



Vessela Tcherneva

Vessela Tcherneva is deputy director of the European Council on Foreign Relations and head of ECFR’s Sofia office. Her topics of focus include EU foreign policy and the Western Balkans and Black Sea region. Between January and July 2022, she held the position of Foreign Policy Advisor to the Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. From 2010 to 2013, she was the spokesperson for the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov’s political cabinet. Previously, she was secretary of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato and former German President Richard von Weizsäcker; supervising editor of the Foreign Policy Bulgaria magazine; and political officer at the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington, DC. Tcherneva holds an MA in Political Science from the Rhienische Friedrich-Wilhelm Universität in Bonn.