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Wednesday 1 June 2022

The EU as a State-Builder in international affairs: The case of Kosovo

On 18 May 2022, SEESOX hosted the first of its Trinity Term Seminars, in hybrid format, on The EU as a State-Builder in international affairs: The case of Kosovo. The speaker was Labinot Greiçevci (Research Institute of Development and European Affairs, Pristina) with Belina Budini (European University of Tirana, and SEESOX) as discussant. The session was chaired by Richard Caplan (DPIR, Oxford).

Greiçevci was presenting his recently-published book, bearing the same title as the seminar, which looked at the role of the EU, and other international actors (USA, NATO, Russia, China, and Turkey) in state-building, using Kosovo as a case study, but looking also at other countries in the region, each of which had its own particularities. The book was based on research begun in 2006 and continued at various points through to 2021; it involved, among other techniques, elite interviews in Kosovo, Brussels and Berlin, including local and international officials, CSO reps, media and academia. He had developed a ranking for failure or success in state-building efforts running from 1 (failure) to 5 (complete success).

Recalling relevant theoretical perspectives – Liberal Peace Theory (LPF) and Normative Power Europe (NPE) – his work had attempted to combine both, looking at diffusion mechanisms, both overt (physical presence/political role) and through transference (technical assistance, funding). His analysis distinguished two separate stages, from 1999 to 2008, prior to Kosovo’s independence declaration, and from 2008 to 2020, looking at both tangible and normative impact in the first stage, and only at normative impact in the second (since tangible impact was complete with institutions in place after independence). In both stages, he had distinguished between the key and the assistant role of the EU and other actors.For Stage 1, he saw substantial success (4) as regards tangible impact, and relative success (3) for normative impact. The EU had been the key actor, through transference diffusion, while other actors (Quint – UK, France, USA, Germany, Italy) had been key in overt diffusion. In Stage 2, the EU-facilitated Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, begun in 2011, had been a complementary tool for norm diffusion, with the EU having recourse to constructive ambiguity to achieve agreement; among numerous examples, he highlighted the agreements on an association of Serb majority municipalities and on integrated border management. He noted that, while such ambiguity certainly facilitated agreement, consequent differing interpretations created implementation problems, that would only be resolved through a final, comprehensive, and legally binding settlement. Consequently, in stage 2, the EU had been the key actor in achieving normative impact, through both overt and transference diffusion, but with only relative success (3); despite progress in some areas, the EU’s inability to move to full recognition of Kosovo undermined the credibility of the letter’s accession perspective.

His conclusion was that the EU had undeniable advantages as a state-builder, given its nature as a “Kantian paradise” preserving internal peace, its readymade normative framework, its demonstrable transformative power, and its economic potential. It faced a number of challenges, however, reflecting both horizontal conflicts between EU Member States – particularly on recognition – and a consequent tendency towards lowest common denominator solutions, and continuing staffing problems for its missions in Kosovo, following the appointment of corrupt individuals. If the EU were to succeed in Kosovo, it needed to resolve its internal conflict over recognition; otherwise a more pro-active role from other western actors (USA, UK) was needed. Kosovo represented a case study for whether the EU could learn the lessons of the 1990s (as it had so far failed to do), while success for EU enlargement in the Western Balkans needed to include all six countries, as the more rapid advance of some carried risks. The region was a crucial test for the EU as an international actor and depended on achieving a sustainable solution for Serbia/Kosovo relations.

Budini welcomed the book as a valuable contribution to filling a gap in the extensive literature on state-building in general and in Kosovo, by focusing on the EU’s role there. While a new global disorder seemed to have emerged following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, progress in Kosovo represented an overall success story. The EU’s role there and in the region, alongside the UN, USA and its allies, certainly could not be considered a failure, even if some elements may have been ineffective. The state-building paradigm had evolved in favour of the creation of much greater local legitimacy, while Kosovo’s success also owed much to its political culture, including a longstanding tradition of free and fair elections; but the EU had been an important factor in this success. As regards methodology, she wondered whether more complete transcripts of interviews could have facilitated understanding of the views of the interviewees.

The Q & A session raised a range of issues:
  • Achieving a greater role for the Quint: although the Quint continues to play a role, the EU has received a mandate from the UNGA to facilitate the Serbia/Kosovo dialogue and to report back on a final settlement for approval by the UNGA. Given the activity of the various Special envoys (USA, Germany, UK) a de facto revival of the Quint appeared to be under way, but the EU retained the formal role.
  • The role of constructive ambiguity in meetings where trust building prevented the preparation of formal minutes: the issue was one of implementation once an ambiguous agreement had been reached. So far only technical agreements had been successfully implemented, without affecting positively the lives of ordinary citizens; the overall situation was more relaxed but without fundamental progress.
  • Kosovo as a form of EU/NATO Protectorate? The use of the term “protectorate” failed to reflect the level of the political culture in Kosovo, but it was undeniable that the framework was led by international actors, who could decide the way forward in the absence of internal agreement, as in the 2001 case (prior to independence) of the designation of Kosovo’s “Constitutional Framework”, rather than “Constitution”.
  • The impact of Brexit on the role of the UK: the Quint Ambassadors continue to meet in Kosovo, and, to some extent, the UK can use its newly independent status to modify its policies in the region, while continuing to coordinate its policies with the EU, albeit with a higher profile. While no doubt the UK had less internal capacity to focus on the region, due to Brexit overload, its recent appointment of an active Special Envoy to the region clearly represented a new initiative.
  • Improving UK engagement with the region through trade and FDI: trade relations between the region and other EU member States were in some instances quite strong, compared with those of the UK, and its attempts so far, though welcome, remained fairly limited.
  • The role of pragmatism in EU foreign policy and its tendency to favour stability over democracy: it was true that, since 1999, the EU had given priority to achieving stability before promoting democracy. But failure to promote democratic policies in the region undermined EU credibility; an example was the EU’s still unfulfilled promise of Schengen visa liberalisation, leaving Kosovo as a sort of unique “black hole” in SE Europe.
Jonathan Scheele (SEESOX Associate)

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