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The agreement on 19 April 2013 between Belgrade and Pristina may justifiably be called a historic development. It paves the way for the further European Union integration of both Serbia and Kosovo. And this deal also demonstrates the EU’s soft power – congratulations are due to High Representative Catherine Ashton and both Prime Ministers, Ivica Dacic from Serbia and Hashim Thaci from Kosovo, who have worked hard to achieve this breakthrough.

After this landmark deal to normalise Serbia-Kosovo ties the European Commission has recommended opening EU membership talks with Serbia and concluded that Kosovo fulfilled all short term conditions from the Feasibility Study in September last year. As consequence the Commission has proposed to the Council to authorize the start of negotiations for Stabilisation & Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo. I strongly support that the decision about this will be made by the Council in June.

A leadership moving forward

Serbia’s leaders – despite, or maybe because of, coming from nationalist parties – have moved forwards during recent months, leaving behind their previous intransigent positions, by implementing the integrated border management agreement and thus accepting jointly-managed stations along the Serbia-Kosovo border, an important step towards recognition. They have also accepted that money from Belgrade goes to health and education structures in northern Kosovo via a fund in Pristina.

The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Ashton, even succeeded in having the presidents of both countries, Serbia’s Tomislav Nikolic and Kosovo’s Atifete Jahjaga, meet for a first-ever encounter in Brussels. But the most important and difficult issue in the EU mediated dialogue was Friday’s solution for the dismantling of parallel structures of police and justice in the north of Kosovo. Now it is important that the agreement is implemented locally. Last week the European Parliament adopted my third report on the EU accession progress of Kosovo. In my reports I call for the restoration of the rule of law in the north, by intensifying the fight against organised crime and criminal structures operating out of control of any authority and using this area as a safe haven for smuggling and other illegal activities.

The region needs good neighbours

And more than five years on from Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the report adopted calls on the five EU member states – Spain, Cyprus, Romania, Greece, Slovakia – that have not yet done so to recognise Kosovo. Victor Ponta, Romania’s prime minister, has now said that Romania must move ahead jointly with other EU countries in recognising states. From Slovakia also positive signals are coming. This would be an important shift because the positive influence of the EU in Kosovo is undermined by the current lack of unity. This is weakening efforts and the effect of billions of euros being spent because, for example, Kosovo is not allowed to be a fully-fledged member of Europol and Interpol, which is harmful for the effort of the EU’s biggest rule-of-law mission EULEX in its fight against corruption and organised crime. Status neutrality has become a haunted term for all those who see that the EU as a whole is weakening itself by its lack of cohesion, materially and even more so politically. Many good intentions get lost in space, and therefore more and more Kosovars doubt whether the EU still is serious with its promise of the ‘European perspective’ – and whether their future really lies in the EU, or rather in a Greater Albania or in closer ties with countries like Turkey.

As rapporteur of the parliament on Kosovo, I see my role also in advocating for the citizens of this youngest European country. After years of waiting and seeing neighbouring countries’ citizens enjoy visa free travel, the EU in 2012 handed over the visa roadmap to the Kosovo authorities whose duty it is now to implement what is requested. The feasibility study has paved the way for the start of negotiations for a Stability and Association Agreement in 2013. My report now also calls for the swift implementation of this visa dialogue, with a view to realising visa-free travel for the citizens of Kosovo, as is the case for other citizens in the region.

Cooperation, not conflict

The success of the dialogue is a good thing. But we should look further. For instance, a parallel screening process with Serbia and Kosovo could be started when Serbia gets a date for the start of accession negotiations. This could be done similarly to the twin-track approach already experienced with the SAA negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro, which started before the referendum in Montenegro about independence took place. Such a parallel screening process, proposed by experts like Verena Knaus from the European Stability Initiative, would give Kosovars again the feeling of belonging to Europe.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU in 2012 was a timely reminder of the principle of cooperation instead of confrontation that has ended a centuries-old history of bloodshed. And it is also a reminder that the European peace project will not be complete until south-eastern Europe is part of the EU. Therefore daring leaders are needed, as we have seen in recent days: in Serbia, in Kosovo, in the EU and especially in the five countries that do not yet recognise Kosovo. Today’s agreement is a sign of hope, that there is such a political leadership and that the future of the western Balkans lies in the EU.

This article was originally published in the newsletter of the Balkan Green network

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