By Alush Gashi and David L. Phillips-
Germany has provided copious and critical support to Kosovo stability and state-building in recent decades.But in its current role as president of the Council of the European Union, Germany can play an even more constructive role by focusing on the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue on normalising relations.
An agreement on mutual recognition would enshrine Kosovo’s independence within its current borders and mark an end to the last violent conflict that took place in Europe in the 20th century.
And a deal between Belgrade and Pristina would be incentivised by the EU’s decision to approve visa liberalisation for Kosovo passport holders.
Visa-free travel would signal that Kosovo is welcome in the European family.
German-Kosovo cooperation spans decades.
Germany welcomed Kosovo-Albanians and others fleeing Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
As Serbia intensified its oppression in Kosovo, German federal authorities generously provided sanctuary to victims of violent conflict.
After Nato’s intervention, in which Germany participated, Germany was also a leading provider of humanitarian assistance.
It supported the reconstruction efforts of UN agencies during Kosovo’s transition from relief to development.
To prepare Kosovo for self-rule, Germany worked through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to help develop Kosovo’s democratic institutions. Germany backed the EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo (Eulex), providing judges, public prosecutors and civilian experts.
Kosovo’s minority rights arrangements, which represented the gold standard in pluralism and inclusivity, paved the way for Kosovo’s declaration of independence on 17 February 2008, which Germany supported.
Germany remains a staunch supporter of Kosovo’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.
Kosovo officials and members of the German federal government work together closely.
Members of the German Bundestag are engaged in Kosovo through bilateral contacts, as well as via the Council of Europe and various parliamentary bodies.
The idea to divide Kosovo, which was raised during recent negotiations, was strongly opposed by Germany, the UK, and other countries.
Kosovo Albanians feel indebted to German chancellor Angela Merkel for upholding Kosovo’s independence and territorial integrity.
Economic cooperation has been equally extensive.
Germany is one of the largest bilateral donors to Kosovo, providing more than €600 million for relief and humanitarian assistance since 1999.
In recent years, Germany has emerged as one of Kosovo’s principal trading partners.
The current scope of development cooperation encompasses public administration, energy, and sustainable economic development.
The coronavirus pandemic has refocused Germany’s assistance to Kosovo’s public health sector.
And even more can be done to build on this extensive track record.
Through the Berlin Process, launched in 2014 to support the EU’s future enlargement, Germany and EU partners can expand assistance to Kosovo’s democratic institutions and economic development.
They can serve as a platform for countering corruption, which is critical to both prosperity and democratisation.
German troops served as a security partner by participating in the Kosovo Force (Kfor), when Serbian soldiers withdrew from Kosovo.
And Germany supported UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which put Kosovo on the path to independence.
The Kosovo Security Force (KSF) was established in 2009 and Germany can help the KSF develop its capacity, enhancing its participation in Nato’s Partnership for Peace Programme and readying Kosovo for Nato membership.
But amid all this, the citizens of Kosovo place great importance on visa liberalisation, and look to Germany for support.
Though Kosovo meets all criteria for visa liberalisation, political backing is needed so Kosovo passport holders can travel freely throughout Europe.
All EU countries have already found ways to recognise Kosovo’s passport, except Spain, one of the five member states that do not recognise its independence, along with Cyprus, Greece, Romania, and Slovakia.
Germany should pressure the five non-recognisers to drop their objections.
Their recognition would also boost the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, led by EU special envoy Miroslav Lajčák and foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.
Lajčák, in particular, has close ties with Germany.
And, while an EU-brokered deal on normalising relations would catalyse recognition, recognition is not dependent on such a deal.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has upheld the legality of Kosovo’s independence declaration, finding that it conformed to international law.
If Spain is concerned that recognising Kosovo sets a precedent for independentists in the Spanish region of Catalonia or beyond, the ICJ was clear that Kosovo’s declaration was “sui generis”, which means “in a class by itself” and “unique”.
The Kosovo case does not set a precedent, nor is it reversible.
Meanwhile, Kosovo and the EU signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) on October 27, 2015.
The SAA provides a comprehensive framework for dialogue between Kosovo and the EU on political ties and alignment of foreign and security policy.
Once the agreement is fully implemented, Kosovo will enter accession talks leading to eventual membership in the EU.
As president of the EU Council until December 2020, Germany is well placed to help intensify mediation, encourage non-recognisers, fast track visa liberalisation, and support implementation of the SAA.
Kosovo pledges to do its part.
However, it needs help from Germany, the US and other friendly governments to realise its potential as a member of the Euro-Atlantic community.
Alush Gashi is a political and foreign policy adviser to Kosovo prime minister Avdullah Hoti. He previously served as health minister and a member of parliament. David Phillips is director of the Program on Human Rights and Peacebuilding at Columbia University in New York. He was also senior adviser to the US sate department, working closely with US ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke. Phillips is the author of a book, called: Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and US Intervention. Phillips’ newest book is Frontline Syria: From Democratic Revolution to Proxy War (click here for more information)