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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says the entire Western Balkans region will benefit from Serbia and Kosovo implementing an EU normalization proposal they agreed on in Brussels last month.
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic are scheduled to meet on March 18 in Ohrid, North Macedonia, to continue talks on the agreement on the path toward the normalization of relations.
The European Union expects them to agree during the meeting on the implementation annex of the agreement, which is considered an integral part of the document.
“If this happens…then Western Balkans will celebrate a big step forward toward [a] European Union path,” Borrell said on March 16 in Tirana, where he participated in a meeting of the Stabilization and Association Council with Albania.
“The agreement will put their relations on a new more sustainable basis and will ensure that dialogue will continue on its trajectory toward full normalization,” Borrell said, echoing comments he wrote in a blog on March 16.
The Ohrid meeting is a follow-up to a discussion that leaders of Kosovo and Serbia had on February 27 in Brussels at which they agreed on the text of the initial plan.
Vucic said on March 16 that he “does not plan to sign anything” but added, “When someone signs something, I will sign it, and the people will decide on that.”
Vucic also said that Belgrade has not yet received a draft of the text from the European Union.
“We submitted our proposal, the Albanians theirs. We have not received anything from Brussels yet and that paper still does not exist,” said Vucic.
During the meeting in Ohrid, he will try to do what is best for Serbia, he said. “And that is to work on the normalization of relations with Kosovo, to build the best relations with the European Union and to firmly hold our red lines. I am not giving up on that.”
He has previously described Belgrade’s red lines as any kind of formal or informal recognition of Kosovo and Kosovo’s membership in the United Nations. That stance, however, is at odds with the provisions of the agreement, notably Article 4, which states that “Serbia will not object to Kosovo’s membership in any international organization.”
The EU normalization proposal, previously known as the Franco-German plan, does not oblige Serbia to formally recognize Kosovo’s independence, but the two countries would recognize each other’s documents, such as passports, diplomas, and license plates.
Under the plan, Serbia would also not object to Kosovo’s membership in any international organization.
Earlier on March 16, the U.S. special envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, voiced optimism that an agreement on the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo could be reached this year.
“I think it is completely possible,” Escobar said, adding that the EU proposal is primarily an agreement on normalization and not on Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
“The American position is that Kosovo is an independent state with territorial integrity and sovereignty. We also believe that the region would benefit from mutual recognition, but that’s not what this is about,” Escobar added.
Serbia and Kosovo fought a war in 1998-1999 that ended when NATO bombed Serbian forces.
Kosovo declared its independence from Belgrade in 2008 and has since been recognized as a sovereign nation by most countries, including the United States. All EU countries except Greece, Spain, Romania, Slovakia, and Cyprus, also have recognized Kosovo’s independence.
Serbia and its traditional ally Russia, however, have yet to do so.
Serbia and Kosovo have been engaged in Brussels-led dialogue since 2011. In 2013 the then prime ministers of both countries, Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci, reached a so-called Brussels agreement. Many elements of this agreement remain unimplemented to this date.
The major stumbling block for the process is the formation of an association of municipalities with a Serbian majority in Kosovo, which Pristina refused to execute fearing a Republika Srpska-like entity in the country would jeopardize its functionality. The international community insists that Kosovo implement its international obligation and establish the association.
With reporting by Gjeraqina Tuhina in Brussels
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