Ohrid (dpa) After twelve hours of marathon negotiations in North Macedonia's Ohrid, the top representatives of Serbia and Kosovo have made considerable progress. "We have a deal," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told journalists late on Saturday evening.
"We have an agreement on how to do it." Borrell and the EU's Balkans special envoy, Miroslav Lajcak, mediated in the talks between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti.
At the end of February, the two politicians in Brussels verbally agreed to an agreement presented by the EU that is intended to fundamentally regulate relations between the two hostile Balkan states. On Saturday they agreed on the appendix to the agreement, which defines its concrete implementation. In the end, however, as in Brussels, Vucic refused to sign the agreements.
Kosovo's statehood is noted
Under the new agreement, Belgrade will not recognize Kosovo under international law, but will acknowledge the statehood of its former province. In particular, it should recognize Kosovo's passports, license plates and customs documents. Kosovo should institutionally secure the rights of the Serbian ethnic group in the country.
On Saturday, Vucic and Kurti negotiated the annex to the agreement, which, according to the original plans of the EU mediators, should have contained specific deadlines for the implementation of the individual points. However, the document published by the EU on Sunday morning hardly contained any time commitments. It only states that the sides would form a joint monitoring committee within 30 days, which would be responsible for overseeing the agreement.
Borrell admitted on Saturday evening that the mediators had entered the negotiations "with a more ambitious and detailed proposal for the annex". "Unfortunately, the sides were unable to agree on the detailed proposal," he said. Kosovo lacked "flexibility in terms of substance", while Serbia insisted from the start that it did not want to sign anything. He did not go into further details. However, he and his team would continue to work on it "until a comprehensive agreement was reached".
Deal without signatures
"I didn't sign anything today," explained Vucic in Ohrid. "We each showed in different ways where the respective red lines are for us." For the Serbian nationalist, any softening of the tough stance against Pristina represents a political risk. Right-wing extremists in Serbia have threatened "hot" protests should Vucic "capitulate" in Ohrid.
Kurti, in turn, faces pressure from the Kosovar Albanian population and electorate, who refuse to make concessions to the Serb community. However, Article 7 of the agreement stipulates that the Serbs in Kosovo are entitled to "an appropriate degree of independent regulation of their affairs". Borrell said that Pristina has now committed itself to implementing this point immediately. In Kosovo, there are fears that excessive veto rights for a future Serbian association of municipalities could block the state.
Berlin: "Congratulations on this breakthrough"
The German government welcomed the agreement reached in Ohrid. "Congratulations on this breakthrough, which puts relations between Serbia and Kosovo on a new footing," said government spokesman Steffen Hebenstreit on Twitter. Now it is a matter of showing leadership strength in order to comply with and implement what has been agreed.
The relationship between the youngest European state and Serbia has been unresolved since it split from Serbia as a result of a NATO intervention in spring 1999. Diplomatic efforts by the West in recent years have not led to any significant normalization of the situation. Tensions had escalated again in the previous year, with road blockades and incidents of shooting.
Against the background of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the settlement of the Kosovo conflict regained importance for the West. Moscow exploits weaknesses in the political order of various Balkan states to gain influence. Belgrade is dependent on Russia because the eastern superpower is using its veto in the UN Security Council to prevent Kosovo from being included in the world organization. Serbia is the only country in the region not to support the EU sanctions against Russia.