Serbia and Kosovo have agreed on the implementation of the EU plan, the commissioner said
OHRID, North Macedonia — The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo have agreed in advance on how to implement the European Union-backed plan to normalize their relations after decades of tension between the two Balkan war enemies, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said on Saturday after presiding over the talks.
At a press conference in the lakeside resort of Ohrid in North Macedonia after nearly 12 hours of talks, Borrell told reporters that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti “have reached an agreement on how to do this.”
Last month, they agreed on an 11-point EU plan to normalize relations after the neighbors’ 1998-99 war and Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.
“Today’s objective was to agree on how to implement the agreement reached at the last high-level meeting,” Borrell said. “It means practical steps on what, when, by whom and how to do it.”
Both countries hope to one day join the European Union and have been told they must first mend their relations. Resolving the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has become increasingly important as war rages in Ukraine and fears grow that Russia may try to foment instability in the volatile Balkans, where it has historical influence.
According to Borrell, despite the fact that a “more ambitious text” was proposed at the beginning of Saturday’s negotiations than the one accepted by the parties, “it will become an integral part of their journey to the European Union”.
“The parties could not agree on this more detailed proposal,” Borrell said. “Kosovo has not been flexible (about the content of the agreement) and Serbia has previously stated that it will not sign, although it is ready to implement.”
“It’s clear that both sides will get significant benefits from this agreement because the dialogue is not just because of Kosovo and Serbia … it’s about the stability, security and prosperity of the entire region,” Borrell said.
The EU plan stipulates that the two countries maintain good neighborly relations and recognize each other’s official documents and national symbols. If implemented, it would prevent Belgrade from blocking Kosovo’s attempts to seek membership in the UN and other international organizations.
The agreement, drafted by France and Germany and supported by the United States, does not specifically call for mutual recognition of Kosovo and Serbia.
Although Serbia’s populist President Vučić tentatively agreed to the EU plan reached last month, he appeared to back down on some points under pressure from far-right groups that see Kosovo as the cradle of the Serbian state and Orthodox religion.
Vučić said on Thursday that he would “not sign anything” at the Ohrid meeting, and had previously vowed never to recognize Kosovo or allow it to join the United Nations. On Saturday, he reiterated that he had not signed the enforcement document, despite Kurti’s insistence.
“Today was not some sort of 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 did not sign the implementation agreement on Saturday.
“Now it’s up to the EU to make it internationally binding,” Kurti said.
Kosovo is a former Serbian province with a majority Albanian nationality. The 1998-1999 war erupted when separatist Albanians rebelled against Serbian rule, and Belgrade responded with brutal action. About 13,000 people died, most of them ethnic Albanians. In 1999, a NATO military intervention forced Serbia to withdraw from the area. Kosovo declared its independence in 2008.
The tension has been raging ever since. Kosovo’s independence is recognized by many Western countries. However, Belgrade opposes it with the support of Russia and China. Negotiations mediated by the EU have not made much progress in recent years.
Despite the war in Ukraine, Serbia maintains close ties with its traditional Slavic ally Russia, in part because Moscow opposes Kosovo’s independence and vetoed 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.