Kosovo has accused Serbia of refusing to sign an EU-sponsored plan that would normalize relations after months of rising political tensions.
On Monday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti gave their tacit approval to the EU’s plan to end months of political crisis and help improve bilateral ties.
The agreement stipulates that both countries would recognize their respective documents and national symbols, and respect their independence, autonomy and territorial integrity, the right to self-determination, the protection of human rights and non-discrimination.
They have agreed to deepen future cooperation in the fields of economy, science and technology, transport and connectivity, justice and law enforcement, health, sports, environmental protection and missing persons.
Both countries want to join the EU, which has told them they must first sort out their differences. The agreement says they will not obstruct each other’s moves to join the bloc.
Recently, tensions flared over seemingly trivial matters such as license plate format or the arrest of an ethnic Serb police officer.
“By the end of this year, we cannot have the agreement fully implemented. Elections must first be held in northern Kosovo (after the resignation of the Serbian mayors). This is the main condition for the formation of the Association of Serbian. Municipalities. Without them, this association is impossible” , Fatmir Scheholi, Institute for the Affirmation of Inter-Ethnic Relations, told Euronews Serbia.
There has been fresh concern among Western leaders that tensions could spill over into a new Balkan conflict, erupting just as Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its second year.
The EU has brokered negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo since 2011, but few of the 33 agreements that have been signed have been implemented. The EU and US have been pushing for faster progress since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
“Free interpretation is allowed and now, after the publication of the agreement, the main question is how the citizens of both Kosovo and Serbia will react to the proposed text,” said Jovana Radosavljević of the Kosovo-based NGO New Social Initiative.
Serbia and Kosovo have confirmed their obligation to implement all previous dialogue agreements. Albania called the agreement an “important achievement”, although it has not yet been signed.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has said that “more work is needed” and that the two countries’ leaders would meet again next month.
In recent months, US and EU envoys have visited Pristina and Belgrade regularly to encourage them to accept the new proposals, and the two leaders met senior EU officials on the sidelines of a major security conference in the German city of Munich earlier this year month.
“Our expectations are very high for this agreement and I think what is new is not only the seriousness of both governments but the seriousness of our European partners to make this happen in the shadow of one of the biggest crises that Europe has seen since World War II ,” said senior US State Department official Gabriel Escobar.
Tensions have simmered between Serbia and its former province since Kosovo unilaterally broke away in 2008. The declaration of independence was recognized by many Western countries but opposed by Serbia, backed by Russia and China.