Kosovo and Serbia agree on how to implement EU normalization plan

Kosovo and Serbia have tentatively agreed on how to implement a European Union-sponsored plan to normalize relations, according to the bloc’s top diplomat, although the leaders of both nations have said that disagreements remained.

Saturday’s deal came after 12-hour talks between Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and EU officials on implementing the normalization plan, which the two sides had agreed to in Brussels last month.

The two leaders held separate meetings with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell ahead of a three-way session in the North Macedonia town of Ohrid.

“We have a deal,” Borrell tweeted after the meeting.

“Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on the implementation annex to the agreement on the way to normalizing relations,” he said.

It means “practical steps on what needs to be done, when, by whom and how”, he added at a press conference.

Kosovo and Serbia have been in EU-backed talks for nearly 10 years since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, nearly a decade after Serbian rule ended in war. But Serbia still views Kosovo as a breakaway province and flare-ups between Balkan neighbors have stoked fears of a return to conflict.

Both countries hope to join the EU one day, and have been told they need to mend their relationship first. Resolving the Serbia-Kosovo dispute has become more important as war rages in Ukraine and fears mount in the West that Russia could try to sow instability in the volatile Balkans, where it holds historic influence .

The EU plan calls on the two countries to maintain good neighborly relations and recognize each other’s official documents and national symbols. But the plan, drawn up by France and Germany and backed by the United States, does not explicitly call for mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia.

If implemented, it would prevent Belgrade from blocking Kosovo’s attempts to seek membership in the United Nations and other international organizations.

Despite tentatively accepting the EU plan agreed last month, populist Serbian President Vucic appeared to backtrack on some of his points after pressure from far-right groups, who see Kosovo as the birthplace of the Serbian state and the Orthodox religion.

Vucic said on Thursday he “won’t sign anything” at the Ohrid meeting and had previously pledged never to recognize Kosovo or allow it to join the UN. He repeated on Saturday that he had not signed the implementation document, although Kurti insisted.

He said the sides didn’t agree on every point, but “despite the differences, we had a decent conversation.”

He added: “In the coming months, we face serious and difficult tasks.”

On the other hand, Kurti complained that Vucic didn’t sign the implementation agreement on Saturday.

“This is a de facto recognition between Kosovo and Serbia” since Serbia has not yet signed the agreement, he said, adding: “It is now up to the EU to make it internationally binding”.

Borrell said the EU will now forcefully ask both sides to fulfill their obligations if they wish to join the bloc, warning there would be consequences if they did not.

He also mentioned a plan to associate Serbian municipalities in Kosovo, which would give greater autonomy to municipalities with a Serbian majority, a long-controversial subject.

“Kosovo has agreed to launch immediately – and when I say immediately, I mean immediately – negotiations with the European Union have facilitated dialogue on the establishment of a specific arrangement and guarantees to ensure an appropriate level of self-management for Serb communities in Kosovo,” said the EU’s top diplomat.

Kosovo is a former province of Serbia with an ethnic Albanian majority. The 1998-99 war erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians rebelled against Serbian rule, and Belgrade responded with brutal repression.

About 13,000 people died, mostly ethnic Albanians.

In 1999, a NATO military intervention forced Serbia to withdraw from the territory. Kosovo declared its independence in 2008.

Tensions have simmered ever since. Kosovo’s independence is recognized by many Western countries, but Belgrade opposes it with the support of Russia and China. EU-brokered talks have made little progress in recent years.

Serbia has maintained close ties with its traditional Slavic ally Russia despite the war in Ukraine, in part because of Moscow’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence and a possible veto over its membership of the UN to the Security Council.


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