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Monday, February 27, 2012

Serbia: Current Issues and U.S. Policy


Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

Serbia faces an important crossroads in its development. It is seeking to integrate into the European Union (EU), but its progress has been hindered by tensions with the United States and many EU countries over the independence of Serbia’s former Kosovo province.

Serbia’s government is a coalition led by pro-EU forces. The global economic crisis poses serious challenges for Serbia. Painful austerity measures have been required for Serbia to receive loans from the IMF and other international financial institutions. High unemployment and poor living standards could result in the coming to power of forces more skeptical of close ties with the United States and the EU after parliamentary elections are held in May 2012.

Serbia’s key foreign policy objectives are to secure membership in the European Union and to hinder international recognition of Kosovo’s independence. In December 2009, Serbia submitted an application to join the EU, but the EU has delayed a decision on whether to accept Serbia as a membership candidate. The EU may accept Serbia in March 2012, if it judges Belgrade has made sufficient progress in reaching agreements with Kosovo on a series of issues, and in implementing them. However, even if Serbia is accepted as a candidate, many years of negotiations will be required before it can join the EU.

Serbia has vowed to take “all legal and diplomatic measures” to preserve its former province of Kosovo as legally part of Serbia. So far, 76 countries, including the United States and 22 of 27 EU countries, have recognized Kosovo’s independence. Russia, Serbia’s ally on the issue, has used the threat of its Security Council veto to block U.N. membership for Kosovo. After the International Court of Justice ruled in July 2010 that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not contravene international law, the EU pressured Serbia to hold talks with Kosovo. EUbrokered talks on trade, freedom of movement and other issues began in March 2011.

In December 2006, Serbia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PFP) program. PFP is aimed at helping countries come closer to NATO standards and at promoting their cooperation with NATO. Although it supports NATO membership for its neighbors, Serbia is not seeking NATO membership. This may be due to such factors as memories of NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999, U.S. support for Kosovo’s independence, and a desire to maintain close ties with Russia.

U.S.-Serbian relations have improved since the United States recognized Kosovo’s independence in February 2008, when Serbia sharply condemned the U.S. move and demonstrators sacked a portion of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. During a 2009 visit to Belgrade, Vice President Joseph Biden stressed strong U.S. support for close ties with Serbia. He said the countries could “agree to disagree” on Kosovo’s independence. He called on Serbia to transfer the remaining war criminals to the ICTY, promote reform in neighboring Bosnia, and cooperate with international bodies in Kosovo. The United States has strongly supported the EU-led talks between Kosovo and Serbia, while making clear that it plays no direct role in them.



Date of Report: February 1
5, 2012
Number of Pages:
13
Order Number: R
S22601
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kosovo: Current Issues and U.S. Policy


Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. On February 18, the United States recognized Kosovo as an independent state. Of the 27 EU countries, 22 have recognized Kosovo, including key countries such as France, Germany, Britain, and Italy. Eightyeight countries in all have recognized Kosovo. When it declared independence, Kosovo pledged to implement the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement, drafted by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The document contains provisions aimed at safeguarding the rights of ethnic Serbs and other minorities. An International Civilian Representative and EULEX, an European Union-led law-and-order mission, are tasked with guaranteeing Kosovo’s implementation of the plan. KFOR, a NATO-led peacekeeping force, has the mission of providing a secure environment.

Serbia strongly objects to Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It has used diplomatic means to try to persuade countries to not recognize Kosovo. It has set up parallel governing institutions in Serb-majority areas in Kosovo. However, after a July 2010 International Court of Justice ruling that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not illegal, the EU pressured Serbia into agreeing to hold direct talks with Kosovo over technical issues. The talks, which got underway in March 2011, have produced agreements on freedom of movement, trade, land registry records, and other issues. However, the deployment of Kosovo police units to northern Kosovo in July 2011 sparked violence and blockades of local roads by Serbs. KFOR then took over control of two border posts in the north. The deployment of Kosovo customs officials to the posts in September caused Serbs to reimpose their road blockades, leading to clashes with KFOR. Serbia broke off the talks with Kosovo for a short time, but then soon returned to them.

Kosovo faces other daunting challenges, aside from those posed by its struggle for international recognition and the status of its ethnic minorities. According to an October 2011 European Commission report on Kosovo, the country suffers from weak institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement. Kosovo has high levels of government corruption and powerful organized crime networks. Many Kosovars are poor and reported unemployment is very high.

The United States has strongly supported the Serbia-Kosovo talks. U.S. officials have stressed that the United States is a “guest,” not as a participant or mediator at the talks. In July 2011, a State Department spokesman expressed U.S. “regret” that the Kosovo government tried to take control of customs posts in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo without consulting the international community. The United States condemned violence by Serbs in northern Kosovo and called on them to restore freedom of movement in the area and for Serbia to “remain committed” to the EU-mediated talks with Kosovo.

Since U.S. recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February 2008, congressional action on Kosovo has focused largely on foreign aid appropriations legislation. Aid to Kosovo has declined significantly in recent years. In FY2011, Kosovo received $79 million in AEECA funding for political and economic reforms, $3.59 million in FMF military aid, $0.7 million in IMET military training assistance, and $0.75 million from the NADR account to combat proliferation and terrorism and for demining. For FY2012, the Administration requested $63 million for Kosovo from the AEECA account, $0.7 million in IMET, $3 million in FMF, and $0.75 million in NADR aid.



Date of Report: February 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RS21721
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at
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Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.