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 the head of ECFR’s Wider Europe programme and a senior policy fellow at ECFR. She is the co-founder of Sofia Platform, a venue for dialogue between members of NGOs, the media, and politics from Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. From 2010 to 2013 she was the spokesperson for the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the political cabinet of Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov.She has been the head of the Bulgarian office of the European Council for Foreign Relations since 2003, as well as programme director for Foreign Policy Studies at the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia. Between 2004 and 2006 she was secretary of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato. She has been a supervising editor for Foreign Policy – Bulgaria magazine since its launch in 2005.