Belgrade-Pristina dialogue resumed but normalisation still far away

Belgrade-Pristina dialogue resumed but normalisation still far away
From left to right: Prime Minister Hoto of Kosovo, High Representative Borrell and President Vucic of Serbia at a meeting in Brussels, July 2020, credit EU

The EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia was resumed on Monday with a high-level meeting in Brussels and following a meeting in the White House between President Trump and the leaders of the two countries.

The dialogue to achieve normalisation of the relations between Kosovo and Serbia, leading to mutual recognition between them, started already in 2011 but had been at a stand-still since almost 20 months. Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for EU external affairs, explained this week that EU is not to be blamed for this. “We are always ready to facilitate the dialogue when the two main parties are ready.”

At the meeting in Washington, President Vucic of Serbia and Prime Minister Hoti of Kosovo signed some form of normalisation agreements that were described by President Trump as a historical moment.

EU however appeared to downgrade the importance of the agreements. “It’s not two parallel processes. The main process is the EU-facilitated dialogue since only it can deliver on the European aspirations of Kosovo and Serbia.” What happens outside the dialogue is welcome provided that it complies with international and EU law, according to the Commission.

But the end goal seems still far away. EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak said in a statement after the meeting in Brussels that the two sides discussed economic cooperation and missing and displaced persons. For the first time, arrangements for non-majority communities and the settlement of mutual financial claims and property were also discussed.

On the positive side, the two leaders confirmed that “they attach the highest priority to the EU integration and to continuing the work on the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue”. In a separate statement, Vucic and Hoti also committed to “redoubling their efforts to ensure further EU alignment in accordance with their respective obligations”.

“In this respect, the recently agreed documents in Washington, building on previous dialogue-related commitments undertaken by the two parties, could provide a useful contribution to reaching a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on normalization of relations,” they added.

Kosovo declared unilaterally its independence in 2008 and has been recognized since then by over 100 countries, including a majority of EU member states. Five member states - Greece, Slovakia, Cyprus, Spain and Romania - have not recognised Kosovo.

Asked if Kosovo can apply for EU membership already now, the EU spokesperson replied that everyone can apply but you have to be a state recognised by all EU member states to apply realistically. “EU is only admitting countries that are recognised states and have solved their bilateral issues with neighbouring countries.”

At the meeting in Washington, Trump announced that Israel was going to recognise Kosovo and that Serbia would move its embassy to Jerusalem. The Serbian President was taken by surprise and was seen scrolling through the agreement he had just signed. Israel itself opposes any premature recognition of Palestine as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not been solved.

Would recognition of Kosovo by third countries and remaining EU member states be helpful for the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia? The spokesperson declined to reply to the question and said that it was not for the EU to comment on recognition since it is a competency of individual states.

Nor is it for the EU to prescribe what form of agreement should be reached between Kosovo and Serbia but the agreement needs to deal with all outstanding issues, be legally binding and conform with international and EU law, according to the spokesperson. “This is the thrust of the EU-facilitated dialogue.”


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