EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell on Saturday night, after a marathon meeting in Ohrid, North Macedonia, declared that Serbia and Kosovo had reached a deal on implementing the EU-backed plan for normalization of ties.
However, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic continued bickering at separate press conferences.
After more than 12 hours of negotiations, Borrell said: “Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on how to implement the agreement” that was “accepted in the last high-level meeting in February”.
Borrell added that “the parties have fully committed to honour all articles of the agreement and implement all their respective obligations expeditiously and in good faith”.
“Kosovo has agreed to launch immediately negotiations with the European Union-facilitated dialogue on establishing arrangements and guarantees to ensure an appropriated level of self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo,” he said.
“The parties also agreed to endorse the declaration on missing persons as a matter of urgency,” he went on, claiming the parties could not agree on a more detailed proposal because Kosovo “lacks flexibility on the substance” and Serbia previously “stated principles not to sign [an agreement] although they were fully ready to implement”.
The annex will be considered adopted via Borrell’s statement and will be an integral part of Kosovo’s and Serbia’s EU path.
“I will launch the work immediately to formerly include the amendments to Chapter 35 to Serbia’s EU accession negotiations and on the agenda of Kosovo’s Special group on normalization, this way both parties will be bound by the agreement… and not fulfilling will come with consequences,” Borrell warned, calling the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue an “important tool to maintain peace and stability” in the region.
After the meeting, Kurti told the media that “public consent” to the deal had been reached. “This is a de facto recognition between Kosovo and Serbia, now we also have the annex of the subsequent implementation,” he said, adding that Serbia was once again “avoided signing”.
When asked about the formation of an Association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo, Kurti emphasized that the agreement mentioned “self management” for Kosovo Serbs but that he will continue to be the Prime Minister of all Kosovo citizens, “no matter their ethnic or religious affiliation”.
Serbian President Vucic said that Belgrade and Pristina had agreed on an implementation plan, which will become part of the EU negotiations path for each of the countries.
“It is important for us that the formation of the Association of Serb Municipalities is set as a priority obligation, in accordance with previously reached agreements within the dialogue,” he said.
According to the president, “we don’t have any obligations in this part, but I won’t deceive anyone, when we meet next time, in a month, two, three, we will talk about some of our obligations”.
The meeting came three weeks after the two leaders, after hours of negotiations in Brussels, broke their deadlock by tentatively agreeing to a European Union plan on normalisation of relations, though opposition parties in both Pristina and Belgrade expressed discontent about the agreement.
Experts told BIRN that unless the international community pushes for actual implementation, this agreement also could fail as it happened in earlier cases.
The 11-point agreement on the path to normalisation says the two sides should develop normal, good-neighbourly relations with each other on the basis of equal rights.
It also says Kosovo and Serbia should mutually recognise their respective documents and national symbols, including passports, diplomas, vehicle licence plates and customs stamps.
On international representation, the agreement says the parties should assume neither of the two can represent the other in the international sphere or act on the other’s behalf.
For years, Kosovo and Serbia have traded accusations over which side is responsible for the failure to implement agreements reached in Brussels since the dialogue process started in 2011, first on technical issues and then involving top political leaders.
Negotiations led to the so-called Brussels Agreement in 2013, which envisaged the establishment of an Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities to represent Serb interests in those areas of Kosovo where they form the majority.
Two years after, in August 2015, the Kosovo and Serbia Prime Ministers signed a deal on the competencies of the Association, but most of then were later ruled as unconstitutional by Kosovo courts. Since then, the idea has remained on paper, the casualty of continuing political tensions between the countries.
Kosovo broke away from Serbia during the 1998-9 war and declared its independence in 2008. It has long been recognised by most Western countries, but not by five EU member states, or by Russia, China, Serbia, and others. Serbia has since declared it will never recognize its independence, adding that also to its 2006 Constitution.