Kosovo, Serbia leaders meet to discuss implementation of EU peace plan
Leaders of Kosovo and Serbia meet under EU mediation in Ohrid, North Macedonia, on Saturday (18 March) to discuss the implementation of a deal on normalising ties agreed in principle last month, essential for their hopes of joining the EU.
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti will sit down for talks chaired by the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell, who oversaw their previous face-to-face meeting in Brussels last month where initial progress was made.
“An agreement is good, an implementation path is better – and this meeting that we agreed, which is going to take place tomorrow in Ohrid, in order to define the practical steps that have to be followed – in concrete timelines, what needs to be done, [by] when and how,” Borrell told reporters in Skopje on Friday.
The meeting will focus on how to fulfil an 11-point agreement the EU has put on the table designed to help draw a line under decades of enmity.
These latest talks follow months of shuttle diplomacy to push the EU plan that has been backed by the United States and all 27 EU member states.
Tensions between Serbia and its former province, whose 1.8 million people are mostly ethnic Albanian, are still high nearly 25 years after a war between ethnic Albanian insurgents and Serb government forces.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 with US and EU backing, but Serbia refuses to recognise it and the Serbian constitution considers Kosovo an integral part of its territory.
Bilateral ties need to be mended for Serbia and Kosovo to achieve their strategic goal of joining the EU. In recent years, clashes flared up between local authorities and Kosovo’s Serb minority.
Saturday’s meeting follows talks in Brussels last month where the two sides moved closer to a deal by giving their tacit approval to the EU-brokered peace plan but fell short of deciding on an annexe, which is meant to spell out steps to implement the final deal.
Serbia, Kosovo move closer to EU-brokered deal on normalising ties
Serbia and Kosovo gave tacit approval on Monday (27 February) to an EU proposal designed to normalise relations between the two countries. But with no signature on the dotted line yet, all eyes are on the next talks scheduled for March.
Senior EU diplomats described the February meeting as the first time the dialogue moved away from mere crisis management to actual discussions about normalisation.
Details of the arrangement, and other contentious issues, are expected to be part of that annexe on implementing the deal as well as previous commitments.
The EU’s Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák travelled to Kosovo and Serbia before the Ohrid talks, and both sides have provided comments on the implementation annexe.
“We will discuss (…), and we will produce a consolidated version of the Annex based on their feedback. And then, I hope, Kosovo and Serbia will be able to agree on the final result of these discussions,” Borrell said.
According to the 11-point text, neither side will resort to violence to resolve a dispute or seek to prevent the other from joining international bodies – a key demand from Kosovo.
Belgrade is not required to formally recognise Kosovo as an independent state but agrees to recognise official documents such as passports, diplomas and licence plates and not to block Kosovo’s membership in any international organisation, including the EU.
The plan, however, also calls on both parties “to ensure an appropriate level of self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo and the ability for service provision in specific areas, including the possibility for financial support by Serbia”
Serbia has insisted that Kosovo establish an association of Serb-majority municipalities, but Pristina has been reluctant to allow a Belgrade-backed Serb Association of municipalities, fearing this could lead to a breakaway enclave that would undermine its sovereignty and violate its constitution.
Borrell is expected to brief the EU’s foreign minister on the progress of the talks during their regular meeting in Brussels on Monday and EU leaders during their regular March summit later next week.
An agreement between Serbia and Kosovo is expected to bolster economic opportunities and EU integration not only for the two countries but also for the rest of the Western Balkans, comprising Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Albania.
Bilateral ties need to be mended for Serbia and Kosovo to achieve their strategic goal of joining the EU.
Nevertheless, Kurti and Vučić have over the past three weeks traded barbs, insisting that many issues remained unresolved that would prevent an agreement.
On the eve of the talks, several thousand people gathered in Belgrade to protest against the Western-backed deal to normalise ties with Kosovo, which they view as a recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
Protesters held Serbian flags and banners reading “Kosovo is not for sale,” “Serbia, not European Union,” and “No to capitulation.”
Serbia has so far relied on its traditional ally Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, and other countries that do not recognise Kosovo, including five EU members, to prevent it from joining the United Nations.
Washington, meanwhile, believes an agreement over the normalisation of ties between Serbia and Kosovo this year is “entirely” possible, Gabriel Escobar, the senior US diplomat for the Western Balkans, said earlier this week.