Serbia torn between EU and sovereign integrity

After a long wait, the EU finally awarded Serbia candidate status Wednesday, an step toward eventual membership. But actually joining the EU will require one compromise Belgrade has been loathe to make: recognizing Kosovo as a sovereign state.

­Starting a new life together in marriage is not so very different from the partnership Serbia is now pursuing with the European Union.

A marriage means you are going to want to ensure you have chosen your partner wisely – someone you can trust to have your best interests at heart.

For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, you are going to have to stand by your choice – as many EU countries are now learning the hard way at a time of financial crisis and harsh austerity measures across the Eurozone.

But Serbia still wants in, believing that joining the EU will offer greater prospects of stability.And just like in many marriages, the reality may well be far from picture perfect.

Any union can be filled with uneasy compromises, and the biggest hurdle in Serbia’s potential EU membership is how to answer the Kosovo question.

The problem for the Belgrade authorities is that for the Serbs, Kosovo is something they simply cannot give up.

“This is our territory, that is not going to change,” newlyweds Andreana and Milosh Stojanovich told RT.

RT asked Borislav Stefanovich, Serbia’s chief negotiator on the issue, what Belgrade’s response would be if recognizing Kosovo were a pre-condition for joining the EU?

“We have a long way to go and we will certainly do everything we can to avoid such a question being put before Serbia. Serbia cannot give up on its constitution and on its territory and Serbia at the same time is not willing to give up on EU integration, so it sounds really irresolvable,” explained Stefanovich.

Serbia has already done much to woo its heart’s desire, fulfilling many of the criteria set by the EU for candidacy.

The arrest of the final war crimes suspect wanted by the Hague in connection with the Balkan conflict of the 1990s led many to believe the country was now firmly on the right track.

Recent visits from EU leaders have been seen as a positive sign that Serbia might finally be about to see some action from the EU.

But Kosovo could be the deal-breaker, and others are much more reserved about the EU’s true intentions.

As Balkans political expert Marko Gasic explained, “Serbia has got many more hoops to jump through before it can get anywhere close to EU membership.”

And as is so often the case, marriages of convenience are born not out of any particular love, but necessity.

“If Serbia gives up on its EU aspirations, Serbia is danger of becoming isolated once again. And we know how it feels when you are isolated,” Belgrade negotiator Borislav Stefanovich said. “When you are isolated, you cannot fight politically or diplomatically for your legitimate national interests.”

Despite Serbia’s assertions that it will never recognize an independent Kosovo, the reality is that Belgrade’s EU aspirations are going to make it very difficult for the government to take any decisive action on the issue. 

And even if they achieve their goal of entering into the European Union, there are no guarantees that it will be a happy and enduring partnership.