Without it, the political dynamics of Serbia will continue to thwart the best intentions of the EU, write Albin Kurti and Sonja Biserko.
As the process of European integration proceeds, the western Balkans, the territory of the former Yugoslavia, remains as a standing reproach to this project of political reconciliation and unity.
The roots of the recent Yugoslav tragedy lay in the resurgence of extreme nationalism in Serbia: this found its initial outlet in the brutal suppression of Kosovo, especially from 1987, which in turn galvanised the movements for independence in Slovenia and Croatia.
Today it is Serbia's continued designs both on Bosnia and on Kosovo and the unwillingness of the international community to deal with these in a determined and proactive manner, particularly regarding Kosovo, which is the primary source of instability in the region.
Kosovo is in a state of political turmoil and economic stagnation due to the insistence by the international community on deferring consideration of its final political status until it is deemed that a satisfactory level of political "standards" has been achieved.
While this may appear to represent a responsible policy in theory, in practice it is quite the opposite: it ignores realities on the ground, exacerbates intercommunal tensions and prevents any effective inward investment.
In reality it represents a failure of nerve by the international community and a desire simply to play for time and defer the difficult decisions that are necessary both to arrive at a peaceful resolution to the Kosovo crisis and to discredit the extreme nationalism emanating from Belgrade.
The record of the Yugoslav army in Kosovo in the 1999 war and since is appalling: 12,000 dead; massive numbers of women raped; 120,000 homes destroyed in an orgy of arson and pillage; a million people "ethnically cleansed". The fate of 3,000 missing Kosovars is still unknown while Belgrade continues to hold the remains of a further nearly 700 in morgues as a kind of grotesque bargaining tool.
Following an initial spurt of reconstruction, the period since 2001 has seen a precipitous decline in the economy. The greatest contributory factor to this is the failure of inward investment arising from Kosovo's indeterminate political status.
The statistics are shocking: unemployment is 57 per cent, with 15 per cent of the population having to survive on an average of 62 cent per day. GDP per capita in Kosovo in the year 2003 was €642.
Much is made of the outbreak of violence in March as an example of Kosovo's unpreparedness for self-determination: in reality it is the economic crisis precipitated by Kosovo's unresolved status that is the root cause of intercommunal tensions and resultant instability.
At the same time, the problems of Kosovo are inextricably linked with the continued ascendancy of the ultranationalist agenda within Serbia, which manipulates the Serbian minority in Kosovo in pursuit of its own agenda, while the current policies of the EU have the effect of encouraging aspirations in Belgrade towards the ethnic partition of Kosovo.
The flashpoints of instability - Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia - all have their origins in the as yet incomplete process of disintegration of Yugoslavia and the undefined borders of Serbia, particularly concerning the status of Montenegro and Kosovo. Hence a democratic transformation within Serbia is essential for regional stability: unfortunately the anti-Milosevic coup of 2000 did not fulfil whatever tentative promise it held in this regard.
The principal parties to that coup were the nationalist opposition (typified by President Kostunica) in alliance with former Milosevic loyalists who remained committed to the nationalist and criminal agendas typical of the Milosevic period.
The influence of progressive and liberal elements was always secondary and was eclipsed following the assassination of Prime Minister Djindic in March 2003.
Djindic's policies of political reform were typified in particular by his realisation of the importance of Serbia's co-operation with the Hague tribunal, both for its own sake and also as essential to allowing Serbia's reintegration into the international community.
Since Djindic's assassination, Milosevic's Greater Serbia policies are being resurrected, typified by policy towards Montenegro, Vojvodina, Kosovo and the Republika Srpska, by the renewed dominant influence of promoters of ultranationalism, in for instance academia and the Orthodox Church and by Serbia's continuing state of denial regarding its primary responsibility for war crimes.
Meanwhile the army continues as a redoubt of extreme nationalism. Last but not least the new financial elite, spawned by the Milosevic regime or enjoying close ties to Milosevic in person, obstructs a comprehensive transformation of the Serb economy, perpetuating instead a continuity with the Milosevic era legacy.
Belgrade's policy towards Kosovo is entirely negative: essentially to prevent participation of Serbs in Kosovo institutions, to undermine international engagement and to demonise Albanians; a policy that has to date been successful and that can only lead ultimately to the partition of Kosovo, which would have disastrous consequences for the wider region.
Only through concerted EU-US action in support of Kosovan self-determination, Pristina and Belgrade may agree upon a mutually acceptable solution subsequently endorsed by the Security Council: that is the only way to stabilise the Balkans.
However, without a more proactive engagement by the EU, the political dynamics of Serbia will continue to thwart the best intentions of the EU in this direction.
Albin Kurti is founder of Kosovo Action Network (KAN), a multi- ethnic NGO based in Pristina; Sonja Biserko is a founding member of Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia (HCHRS)