After 10 years of EU-backed talks, Kosovo and Serbia have tentatively agreed on how to implement a European Union-sponsored plan to normalise their ties. The deal was reached after 12-hour talks between Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and EU officials on implementing the normalisation plan, which both sides had agreed to in Brussels last month. The EU plan calls for the two countries to maintain good neighbourly relations and recognise each other’s official documents and national symbols. If implemented, it would prevent Belgrade from blocking Kosovo’s attempts to seek membership in the United Nations and other international organisations.
Despite the agreement, there are still disagreements between the two nations. Serbia still regards Kosovo as a breakaway province, and far-right groups put pressure on President Vucic to backtrack on some of the EU plan’s points. Vucic has pledged never to recognise Kosovo or allow its UN membership, and he has not yet signed the implementation document. However, Kurti insisted on it, saying that the parties have not agreed on all points, but “despite differences, we had decent conversation.”
The EU plan does not explicitly call for mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia, but it does call for both countries to honour all articles of the agreement and implement their respective obligations expediently and in good faith. The EU will now forcefully demand both sides to fulfil obligations if they want to join the bloc, warning there would be consequences otherwise.
The proposed association of Serb municipalities in Kosovo, which would give greater autonomy to Serb majority municipalities, is a long-disputed topic. The EU top diplomat said that “Kosovo has agreed to launch immediately negotiations with the European Union facilitated dialogue on establishing a specific arrangement and guarantees to ensure an appropriated level of self-management for the Serbian communities in Kosovo.”
Kosovo is a majority ethnic Albanian former province of Serbia. The 1998-1999 war erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians rebelled against Serbia’s 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 pull out of the territory. Kosovo declared independence in 2008. Tensions have simmered ever since. Kosovo’s independence is recognised by many Western countries, but it is opposed by Belgrade with the backing of Russia and China. EU-brokered talks have made little headway in recent years.
Solving the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has become more important as war rages in Ukraine and fears mount in the West that Russia could try to stir instability in the volatile Balkans, where it holds historic influence. Both countries hope to join the EU one day, and they have been told they must first mend their relations.