UK’s Future Engagement in the Western Balkans: Insights from David Cameron’s Kosovo Visit

Helena Ivanov Twitter
Source: Twitter

Written for Kosovo Online by Helena Ivanov, associate research fellow at the Henry Jackson Research Center

In the opening days of 2024, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Mr David Cameron, embarked on his official state visit to Kosovo. During his brief one-day stay in Pristina, he held important talks with the Kosovo Prime Minister and President. Importantly, he also paid a visit to the Gracanica monastery, one of the most important sites within the Serbian Orthodox Church. 

During the visit, Mr Cameron reiterated the UK’s support for Kosovo – underscoring the UK’s historical backing of Kosovo’s independence. He also signalled a strong willingness to further endorse Kosovo’s efforts to gain recognition among other sovereign states

Finally, he expressed his concern about rising tensions in Kosovo, referring specifically to the Banjska incident in September in which four people lost their lives, and thanked KFOR troops for maintaining regional stability. 

His visit was welcomed by Kosovo political representatives, but sparked controversy in Belgrade. Specifically, Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Ivica Dacic, stated that Mr Cameron’s comments about helping Kosovo gain recognition from other sovereign states is “hypocritical” and must be “condemned.” 

In addition, he expressed frustration at Mr Cameron for failing to mention that Kosovo has been failing for 11 years now to fulfil the obligations it accepted as part of the Brussels agreement signed in 2013, adding that Serbia will continue to be constructive in the dialogue, but that it also has the right to protect its vital strategic interests and territorial integrity. 

This visit happens in the backdrop of increased EU and USA pressures on Serbia and Kosovo to normalise relations. Ever since last year, when the sides formally accepted two deals – in Brussels and Ohrid, the EU and the USA have invested immense efforts in motivating the sides to implement their obligations, but to little avail. 

In fact, most rounds of talks have been followed by rounds of escalations – each of which was more tense than the previous one. While the EU remains committed to the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and has tied their EU accession path to fulfilling mutual obligations, doubts persist regarding the EU’s actual leverage to facilitate normalisation effectively. In that sense, increased involvement from other actors, possibly the UK, could be a welcoming contribution. 

But any meaningful engagement dictates that the UK and any other involved party must grasp the full context of this ever-evolving situation and engage in a constructive dialogue with both sides. In this specific instance, that entails Mr Cameron visiting both Serbia and Kosovo and acknowledging that, over the past decade, neither side has demonstrated the necessary level of constructiveness in the normalisation talks. 

For instance, the obligation to establish the Association of Serb Municipalities has been looming over Kosovo ever since the 2013 Brussels Agreement. To put it simply, it is important to keep both sides at the table and make them feel as if their legitimate grievances are understood and heard. Otherwise, any one-sided approach is not only unlikely to result in a positive outcome, but it can potentially further frustrate normalisation talks.