Serbia and Kosovo make progress in mending ties, EU envoy says
Published in News & Features
Serbia and Kosovo agreed on steps to implement a European Union plan aimed at defusing disputes that have threatened stability in the Balkans, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said as he mediated the latest round of talks between the wartime foes.
Kosovo will immediately begin by allowing “self-management” for local minority Serbs, Borrell said late Saturday at a news conference in Ohrid, North Macedonia, after a 12-hour-long negotiation. The issue of giving Serbs living in Kosovo a degree of autonomy was a major hurdle for the government in Pristina during past talks.
“Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on the implementation Annex of the agreement on the path to normalization of relations between them,” Borrell said. “This is not just about Kosovo and Serbia, it’s about the stability, the security, the prosperity of the whole region.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti have been under pressure from Washington and Brussels to end recurring tensions at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues into a second year. Normalizing their relations is a condition for Serbia to progress with EU entry negotiations, and for Kosovo to become an EU candidate country.
Borrell said there is still a lot of work that both parties need to do, adding the agreement reached on Saturday fell short of the EU’s original proposal for Annex, a kind of road map on how to implement the agreement.
“The parties were not able to find a mutually acceptable solution as ambitious as we were proposing,” he said. “We will forcefully demand the parties to fulfill their obligations. Both parties will be bound by their agreement, which will be part of their European Union path.”
Last month, Western mediators secured their tentative consent to the 11-point plan drawn up by the bloc and backed by the U.S.
The EU plan calls on both sides to respect each other’s territorial integrity, even as Serbia refuses to accept Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, made in 2008 almost a decade after a war over the territory. For its part, Kosovo should allow a degree of autonomy for the Serb minority that remained in the ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo after the secession.
While the new plan doesn’t call for Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo’s sovereignty, it’s seen as a stepping stone toward the normalization of ties. It may also help Kosovo join the United Nations, which Serbia has been preventing with support from China and Russia.
Belgrade considers Kosovo, a mostly ethnic Albanian state of 1.8 million people, part of its territory and the religious and cultural heartland of the Serb nation. The acrimony has prevented either side from progressing toward EU membership.
Last year, Kosovan Serbs blocked roads in northern Kosovo, protesting the government’s efforts to make them accept documents and license plates issued in Pristina rather than Belgrade. Scattered violence ensued as Kurti sent elite police units to tighten control of the area.
Kurti has criticized the concept of autonomy for local Serbs, already envisioned under earlier, EU-brokered deals, as a risk to Kosovo’s integrity. He’s also faced backlash at home over making concessions, as did Vucic in Serbia where hard-line nationalists accuse him of betraying national interests.
Thousands rallied in Belgrade on the eve of the talks, chanting “treason” and accusing Vucic of yielding to Western pressure. The Serbian leader has said that EU and U.S. demands for a Kosovo deal have intensified as his country hasn’t joined sanctions imposed on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.
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