A majority of countries in the European Union, most crucially Germany, have adopted a similar rigid stance. In December 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told officials in Belgrade that the “path of Serbia into the EU can only lead through the normalization of its relations with Kosovo.” By “normalization,” she meant Serbia’s recognition of an independent Kosovo with no boundary changes whatsoever. That is an extralegal requirement that has never been a condition for any other current or prospective EU member. Moreover, the demand is in stark contrast to the EU’s decision regarding the Cyprus’s membership. Nicosia did not have to recognize the independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which Ankara had created in the portion of the Island that Turkish troops had invaded and occupied in 1974.
U.S. and EU leaders assume that Serbia wants membership in the European Union (and, eventually, NATO) so badly that Serb leaders will ultimately adopt a policy of unconditional surrender regarding the Kosovo issue. That may well be a dangerous miscalculation. The current government of Prime Minister Dacic has already moved far beyond Serbian public opinion in offering possible diplomatic compromises. There is still a strong nationalist faction that is unalterably opposed to relinquishing Serbia’s claim to any portion of Kosovo. To them, Kosovo is Serbia’s historical and religious heartland—the country’s equivalent of Jerusalem.
The perverse unwillingness of the United States and the EU to compromise with Dacic and other generally pro‐Western moderates could lead to the resurgence of nationalist extremism and the emergence of a new hostile, anti‐Western regime. One nationalist party, the Democratic Party of Serbia, has already demanded that Dacic resign, accusing him of pursuing a “policy of capitulation.”
Solving the Kosovo problem—which continuously threatens to roil the Balkans—requires accepting Belgrade’s latest olive branch as a basis for negotiations. Indeed, that proposal is more accommodating than the West had any reason to expect. It is unlikely that any Serbian government can swallow the bitter pill of recognizing Kosovo’s independence without boundary adjustments, or at the very least, guarantees of extensive political autonomy for Kosovo’s Serb inhabitants. The EU is missing an opportunity if it clings to its current myopic policy.
Even worse is Washington’s unhelpful meddling. The insistence of U.S. leaders in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations to back, without any apparent reservation, the agenda of Kosovo’s government exacerbates a chronic regional and international problem. The United States does not have any crucial interests in the Balkans, and it most certainly should not be a party to the dispute over Kosovo’s status. If the Obama administration unwisely insists on continuing Washington’s involvement, it at least should not adopt positions that make a settlement less likely. There should be no more statements like those Hillary Clinton made in October.