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EU to Get Tougher on Kosovo as Tensions Flare

New measures come as Washington expresses frustration with Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

STRASBOURG — Brussels is ratcheting up pressure on Kosovo to de-escalate the situation in the north of the country with a proposal to block the Kosovar prime minister from participating in high-level events and suspend EU financial support for the Balkan country.

The fresh pressure on Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti follows a similarly tough line from the United States, as relations between Washington and Pristina hit a new low over frustration over the latest flare-up in the region. 

Over recent weeks, tensions erupted in the north of Kosovo — which is more than 90 percent ethnic Serbian — following the installation of Albanian mayors in the wake of April mayoral elections that the local Serb majority sat out. In widely condemned actions at the end of May, Serbs attacked NATO and Kosovar forces, as well as journalists.

Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia have persisted since the brutal Balkan war in the late 1990s, after Kosovo’s bid to break away from Serbia. Kosovo declared its independence in 2008; but many Serbs in northern regions still see Belgrade as their home capital.

The fresh frustration in Brussels emerged as Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday — the first Kosovar president to address the parliament since the country’s independence in 2008.

“Kosovo is Europe, to be Kosovar is to be European. Our young republic was born to the beat and sound of Europe,” she said, urging the European Parliament to “remain steadfast by our side.”

Osmani also highlighted the progress the country has made on the rule of law, economic growth and strengthening democracy in its efforts to eventually join the European Union — an aspiration complicated by the fact that five EU countries, including Serbia, do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

While not referring to the current hostilities directly, Osmani addressed the situation of Serbs living in Kosovo. “We stand as unwavering champions determined to safeguard … rights for every citizen of our republic, no matter their ethnicity or religion or other background,” she told MEPs.

“In this spirit of inclusivity, I call on all Serbs living in Kosovo to utilize their advanced rights afforded to them in Kosovo’s constitution. The Republic of Kosovo is your home. And we will do everything in our power to make sure that you feel protected, included, equal and heard.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Kurti outlined a five-point peace plan in a letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, stressing the need to bring the Serbs responsible for the May 29 violence to account. He also signaled a willingness to hold fresh elections, and suggested a meeting with his Serbian counterpart in Brussels this week. 

But a European Commission spokesperson said Wednesday that the letter sent by Kurti “failed to adequately address elements which triggered, are the root cause of the latest crisis, and which we expect him to address urgently.”

In particular, Kosovo is obliged to establish an association of Serb municipalities under the terms of a 2013 agreement penned in Brussels and endorsed by the Serbian and Kosovar governments. 

Three EU officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about the plan, told POLITICO that Borrell has proposed to member states a suite of punitive measures. These include blocking the Kosovar prime minister from high-level visits and events, as well as suspending financial cooperation with Kosovo.

In a significant toughening of the EU’s position toward Pristina, the proposal would also suspend some parts of the EU-Kosovo Stabilisation and Association Agreement body — the main framework that has guided the EU’s relationship with Kosovo since 2015.

The EU has had a prominent role in managing relations between Serbia and Kosovo ever since the United Nations mandated the EU to facilitate dialogue between the two a decade ago, a process known as the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue.