Serbia’s ultimatum to Europe regarding Council of Europe’s invitation to Kosovo

In the near future, the Council of Europe will invite Kosovo to join the organization. This is a stunning blow for Serbia, which considers this partially recognized state to be part of its territory.

The Serbian government is preparing a response to this geopolitical blow, and has even publicly threatened to withdraw from the Council of Europe if Kosovo becomes a member of the organization. But this step would automatically mean the end of Serbia’s integration to the European Union. Thus, the situation in the Balkans will escalate.

The Council of Europe, which together with the European Union is the key international organization on the continent, has reached the final stage of Kosovo’s accession to its ranks. 

In March, Paris hosted a meeting of the Political Committee of the PACE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The key issue on the agenda was to approve a report that would give the green light for Kosovo’s accession to the Council of Europe.

Serbia fought to the last, trying to prevent the committee’s decision. However, Serbia did not receive the support of other European states. Consequently, the decision, deemed catastrophic by Belgrade, gathered 31 votes in favor. Four Serbian deputies voted against, and one Greek abstained.

Symbolically, in this vote, even Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban abandoned his ally, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic.

However, the committee’s nearly unanimous vote ensures that the Assembly will finally approve this decision without any “anti-Kosovo” amendments during the PACE session in Strasbourg in the third week of April.

Next, the procedure requires another vote in the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, and there are votes there as well.

Based on the pace of the process, it is almost certain that the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will vote on the decision at a ministerial meeting on May 16–17 in Luxembourg.

Next, Pristina must ratify the European Convention on Human Rights, a task that the parliament there will undoubtedly prioritize and unanimously support, submit the ratification documents to Strasbourg, and complete Kosovo’s accession process.

Recall that the expulsion of Russia from the organization due to its full-scale war aggression against Ukraine coincided with a decrease in the political influence of pro-Russian Serbia. After that, Kosovo decided to take the chance and gain the membership.

When the situation regarding Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe developed, Belgrade’s reaction became more like hysteria.

For President Vucic and his party, this could have catastrophic electoral consequences. What the Serbian government should do in this situation is unclear. Serbs will be waiting for decisive action by the authorities.

Serbian President Vucic has even admitted that Serbia could withdraw from the Council of Europe if Kosovo’s application is granted.

Ana Brnabic, former prime minister and current speaker of the parliament, immediately supported this idea and said that “Serbia is not bluffing” when it talks about leaving the Council of Europe. “If the Council of Europe violates its Charter and its values, there is no need to be part of this hypocrisy,” she added.

A state that is not a member of the Council of Europe cannot even be a candidate for the accession to the EU. So, Belgrad will have to abandon its aspiration to become an EU member.

So far, in foreign policy Serbia has tried to sit on two chairs. It has been imitating political rapprochement with the EU and somehow harmonizing technical standards with European ones, but it has done nothing in terms of political integration.

In particular, Belgrade explicitly refused to impose sanctions on Russia, although this is required for all candidates. In foreign policy, the Serbian government chose an eastern course, but at the same time repeated that it was aiming to join the EU. Despite constant claims that the Serbian people chose Europe, recent polls reveal a minority of supporters for EU membership.

The Serbian government finds itself at a critical situation. Each of the paths involves risks and losses. You can lose either voter support, EU integration, or both. And in both scenarios, Belgrade will likely completely lose Kosovo.

European politics evolved and changed the balance of power in the Council of Europe due to Russia’s full-scale war aggression against Ukraine in 2022. Following the invasion, the Council of Europe made an unprecedented decision to expel Russia, leading to Russian citizens losing their positions within the organization.

This automatically reduced the political influence of pro-Russian Serbia, which had previously relied heavily on strong Russian support. Therefore, Kosovo thought that this gave them a chance to achieve the impossible, and in early May 2022, they applied for membership in Strasbourg.

The readiness to consider such an application did not come immediately; it was kept without consideration for almost a year, but in April, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe finally launched the process.

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