June 21. 2024. 6:16

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Mixed reactions from Belgrade, Pristina following normalisations of relations meeting

Leaders of Kosovo and Serbia have given mixed reactions following the high-level meeting in Brussels on Monday, designed to move forward with the normalisation of relations by agreeing on an EU-backed proposal.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić spoke to reporters from Brussels and stated that Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti was not ready to agree to the Association of Serb Municipalities (SMA).

Vučić was also asked two direct questions by English-speaking reporters. The first one was – does that mean the European proposal has been agreed upon?

“I don’t know what it means; I am waiting for the implementation plan, most of all for preexisting obligations. The roadmap is something we need to work on, but at its beginning is something someone does not want to fulfil, and that is the SMA”, Vučić said.

Asked if Serbia would accept Kosovo’s independence, Vučić gave a short answer.

“Serbia is a member of the United Nations. Kosovo is not. We always support international order, the UN Charter and, of course, the Serbian Constitution.”

The association would see the creation of a parallel executive structure for Kosovo’s Serb minority. Leaders of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority argue such a body would give Belgrade an outsized influence in their country, while Serbs say it is needed to protect their rights.

The concept has also led to protests in Kosovo from citizens who claim Serbs enjoy significant minority rights, including free electricity, Serbian language education, and mandates in local and national government.

Following signing an agreement to establish the association in 2013, Kosovo’s constitutional court ruled that it was incompatible with the nation’s constitution.

Pristina has said it is not opposed to the association if it functioned like an NGO or was not mono-ethnic, and in January, Kurti laid down conditions under which he would accept its creation.

Nevertheless, Vučić said another meeting would be held in North Macedonia on 18 March.

“It was an expectedly difficult meeting, and I expect many more to come. We will meet again in the Republic of Northern Macedonia on March 18th. It is important that the EU statement speaks about the necessity of implementing all previous agreements. I have insisted on the Serbian municipalities association. It is understandable; I think Kurti was not ready to accept it now. Will he be in the future, we shall see. I hope it is possible to reach some type of compromise. Still, I also fear that we could remain stuck in something that was signed long ago, and that was supposed to be fulfilled a long time ago”, Vučić stated, while not mentioning that Serbia itself has failed to implement some 33 agreements signed during previous dialogue.

Vučić also announced that he would cancel foreign affairs meetings and travel plans to prepare himself for March 18th, before the European council expects a report.

“On the 23 or 24 of March, the European Council will want a report on what we have achieved so far, and our euro integrations will be seen through that lens. The euro integrations of both sides, to be fair. We need to sit down and work on the roadmap, which is currently non-existing”, Vučić said.

Kurti said that following the meeting, the two sides are “well on the way to normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia for good European neighbourliness.” He added that the Serbian side agreed but refused to sign on the dotted line.

“Today, we had a positive, constructive meeting in Brussels, and this meeting was confirmation that the European proposal is acceptable and unchangeable. I already said earlier that it is a good basis for further discussions and it is a solid platform to move forward, and moving forward will be for the implementation plan, for which there will also be flying diplomacy as it is called,” Kurti said.

He thanked the EU’s Josep Borrell and Miroslav Lajca “for the work they have done so far.”

Meanwhile, in Kosovo, not everyone was optimistic following the talks in Brussels. Chairman of the New Kosovo Alliance Party, Behgjet Pacolli, said Serbia is the only party that will win out of the agreement, particularly if the association is established.

“The Association of Serb Municipalities wins today….There will be no mutual recognition from Serbia…Serbia only wins here, but it’s not a loss if a peace agreement is reached,” he said.

Pacolli added that it was unfortunate there was no pressure on Serbia to sever its ties with Russia and that “in a way, [today] guarantees Serbia’s institutional journey towards Europe.”

As for the international community, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg also welcomed the news and said he is looking forward to the implementation stage.

“Stability in the Western Balkans and a push towards the EU is the key. I welcome today’s steps towards normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Thanks to Josep Borrell and Miroslav Lajcak. A timely and comprehensive implementation is expected after the modalities have been mutually agreed upon”, he said.

US Envoy Gabriel Escobar also reacted, stating ‘there is still a lot of work to be done” and that more information would be given at a press conference organised by the US State Department on Tuesday.

Serbia, Kosovo move closer to EU-brokered deal on normalising ties

Serbia and Kosovo gave tacit approval on Monday (27 February) to an EU proposal designed to normalise relations between the two countries. But with no signature on the dotted line yet, all eyes are on the next talks scheduled for March.

(Alice Taylor, Bojana Zimonic Jelisavac | EURACTIV.com, EURACTIV.rs)