Close but no cigar.
Or maybe not.
State-level meetings held in Ohrid, Macedonia over the March 18-20 weekend that were to culminate in the signing of an implementation agreement to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo did not go as planned–but that did not stop the EU double-speak or change the reality of Serbia’s position on refusing or recognize Kosovo as an independent state.
While the two sides negotiated for more than 12 hours—and wile Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at first seemed to imply that the meeting was a step forward and that talks were “ok,” there were no illusions when it came to a refusal to sign the final 11-point agreement and annex.
Yet going by the EU, you would be hard pressed to believe it.
“Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on the Implementation Annex of the Agreement on the path to normalisation of relations,” EU High Representative Josep Borrell said during a press conference Saturday March 18, as reported by n1info.rs. “The parties have fully committed to honor all articles of the agreement and implement their respective obligations expediently and in good faith.”
This was quite an important statement—one with the potential to resound throughout the region and one that would at least in part ease EU and US worries over Russian meddling the Balkans against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.
Only is simply was not the case.
In fact, although Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti claimed he was ready for the pen, the agreement was left unsigned, with Borrell later stating that “the parties were not able to find a mutually acceptable solution as ambitious as we were providing or proposing,” according to euroactiv.com.
Although the EU, as is its wont, hailed “progress,” Vucic later made it clear as to why he walked away from the deal, telling Serbian news sites that the deal would result in de facto recognition of Kosovo as an independent state and that Serbia also would not abide by UN recognition of Kosovo as a country.
In other comments Vucic seemed to imply that signing any sort of document would be tantamount to recognizing a legal entity—in other words the “country” of Kosovo—and that this would also imply de facto state recognition.
Vucic noted that Kurti was obviously willing to sign such a document for this reason while at the same time seeming to question Kurti’s sincerity in actually implementing the points in the document. On the flipside, Vucic claimed Serbia was sincere about implementation—with this harking back to the need for a Community of Serbian Municipalities (CSM) in Kosovo even if a signature on the agreement is not imminent.
Not surprisingly, Kurti put the blame on Serbia and Vucic, stating that “the other side” was “avoiding” actually putting pen to paper.
The results—or lack thereof—is likely only to further increase pressure on both leaders, with the US and the EU pushing hard for progress, but with Vucic especially facing demonstrations at home and also calls from the more than 120,000 ethnic Serbs in Kosovo for increased rights and protections from what they perceive as harassment by Kosovo police.
Photo of current EU High Representative Josep Borrell by the Ministry of the Presidency. Government of Spain (Attribution or Attribution), via Wikimedia Commons.