Kosovo and Serbian leaders met in Brussels at the end of February, as the European Union increased pressure on them to reach a breakthrough deal that will lead to normalization of relations between the two countries. After more than two decades of feuding, the two sides have admitted that they are feeling increasingly pressed by Western governments to reach an historical agreement.
Following the February 27 meeting in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated that the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia had endorsed a Brussels peace plan but needed more talks to agree on how to implement it. Another leaders’ meeting, according to Borrell, will be required in mid-March, with a possible final agreement expected for the end of next month.
“I am pleased to announce that” Vucic and Kurti “have today agreed that no further discussions are needed on the European Union proposal,” Borrell informed.
The plan, which was quickly made public, was initially floated as Franco-German. The plan’s main goal appears indeed to be to force Serbia and Kosovo to recognize their mutual existence de facto, without going so far as de jure recognition. Furthermore, Belgrade should allow Pristina to try entering any international organizations, including the United Nations, where Russia and China, historically close to Serbia, have the right to veto.
The proposed deal “sets out that people can move freely between Kosovo and Serbia using their own passports – mutually recognized – IDs and license plates. It entails that people can study and work without wondering whether their diplomas and where they obtained them may be an issue,” Borrell confirmed. Furthermore, the deal “can bring new economic opportunities through increased financial assistance, through business cooperation, and through new investments in Kosovo and Serbia.” “For the Serbs in Kosovo, it means more security, certainty and predictability – when it comes to their protection and rights in Kosovo – including for the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian cultural and religious heritage sites,” Borrell noted.
“Further negotiations are needed to determine specific implementation modalities of the provisions,” Borrell added. However, just the fact that the EU said that both parties agreed that the EU plan is final and acceptable in principle suggests that a historical deal between Serbia and Kosovo might be in sight.
Following the meeting, Vucic and Kurti claimed though there had been no breakthrough and each attacked the other, addressing their domestic media to emphasize they were not making concessions, despite strong pressure from Europe and the US to reach an agreement. Vucic, in particular, dismissed the talks as ineffective. “We don’t have a roadmap,” he insisted, while agreeing to continue with talks. Kurti was more upbeat, saying he would have been willing to sign an agreement if Vucic had been.
Opposition forces, critics and experts in the region continue wondering what kind of benefits Serbia and Kosovo would have by accepting the plan. With the EU integration process stalled, it is unclear what benefit Serbia would gain from agreeing on the plan without envisioning concrete steps toward full EU integration. Also, Kosovo may wonder if the plan is still of interest, given Pristina’s position that any agreement must include “full mutual recognition.” Furthermore, there are still concerns about how both leaders would sell any potential agreement to their respective populations.
According to a senior EU official, quoted in local media in the region, Russia is actively attempting to derail the two sides’ negotiations.
Journalist based in the Balkans since 2005, he covers Central- and Eastern Europe for a wide range of media outlets, including the Italian national news agency ANSA, and the dailies La Stampa and Il Piccolo.