Serbia, Kosovo agree on how to implement EU plan, envoy says
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said leaders of Serbia and Kosovo had tentatively agreed on how to launch a European Union-backed plan to normalize their ties after decades of tensions between the two wartime enemies on the Balkans could implement
OHRID, North Macedonia – Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo have tentatively agreed on how to implement a European Union-backed plan to normalize their ties after decades of tensions between the two Balkan wartime enemies, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Saturday after the presidency talks between them.
At a news conference after nearly 12 hours of talks in the North Macedonian seaside resort of Ohrid, Borrell told reporters that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti “reached an agreement on how to do it”.
They agreed last month to formulate an 11-point EU plan to normalize relations after the 1998-1999 neighbors’ war and Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.
“The aim today was to agree on how to implement the agreement adopted at the last high-level meeting,” Borrell said. “That means practical steps of what to do, when, by whom and how.”
Both countries hope to one day join the European Union and have been told they must first improve their relations. Resolving the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has become more important as the war rages in Ukraine and fears mount that Russia may seek to stoke instability in the volatile Balkans, where it has historical clout.
Borrell said that despite the fact that “a more ambitious text” was proposed at the start of negotiations on Saturday than the one the parties accepted, “it will become an integral part of their respective European Union paths”.
“The parties could not agree on this more detailed proposal,” Borrell said. “Kosovo lacked flexibility on the content (of the agreement), while Serbia previously stated the principle of not signing it, although ready to implement it.”
“It is clear that both parties will benefit significantly from this agreement, because the dialogue is not only for Kosovo and Serbia … It is about the stability, security and prosperity of the entire region,” Borrell said.
The EU plan envisages the two countries maintaining good neighborly relations and recognizing each other’s official documents and national symbols. If implemented, it would prevent Belgrade from blocking Kosovo’s efforts to gain membership in the United Nations and other international organizations.
The deal, drafted by France and Germany and backed by the US, does not include an explicit requirement for mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia.
Although Serbia’s populist President Vucic tentatively approved the EU plan reached last month, he appeared to be retracting some of his points under pressure from far-right groups who see Kosovo as the cradle of the Serbian state and Orthodox religion.
Vucic said on Thursday he “won’t sign anything” at the Ohrid meeting and had earlier promised he would never recognize Kosovo or allow its UN membership. He reiterated on Saturday that he had not signed the implementation document, despite Kurti’s insistence.
“Today wasn’t D-Day, but it was a good day,” Vucic said. “We face serious and difficult tasks in the coming months.”
On the other hand, Kurti complained that Vucic didn’t sign the implementation contract on Saturday.
“Now it’s up to the EU to make it internationally binding,” said Kurti.
Kosovo is a majority-ethnic Albanian former Serbian province. The 1998-1999 war erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians rebelled against Serbian rule and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown. 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.
Since then, tensions have simmered. Kosovo’s independence is recognized by many Western countries. But it is rejected by Belgrade with the support of Russia and China. Talks brokered by the EU have made little progress in recent years.
Serbia has maintained close ties with its traditional Slavic ally Russia despite the war in Ukraine, partly because of Moscow’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence and a possible veto of its UN Security Council membership.
Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic from Belgrade, Serbia, Llazar Semini from Tirana, Albania, and Konstantin Testorides from Skopje, North Macedonia contributed.