Kosovo-Serbia underwhelming results from the Ohrid Summit

05 prill 2023 13:53

Artikulli i përkthyer.

On March 18, 2023, representatives of Serbia, Kosovo, the EU, and the U.S. gathered in Ohrid, North Macedonia, to discuss the EU Proposal and the Implementation Annex for the normalization of relations.

While Kosovo and Serbia accepted both documents, the negotiations were marked by compromises that led to a watered-down agreement, lack of a clear timeline for implementation, and absence of signatures from the parties involved.

Most importantly, the documents fail to achieve the long-anticipated normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Instead, it looks like the mediators tried to satisfy the aspirations of both sides at the cost of more tangible progress.

Thus, doubts remain about the potential success and implementation of the agreement.

Annex and key takeaways

The main focus of the negotiations was the Implementation Annex, as both sides accepted the EU Proposal in February. After the meeting, which lasted for 12 hours, all parties agreed on a 12-point Annex.

The Annex introduces a key novelty, the creation of the Joint Monitoring Committee, which the EU will chair, to report on the implementation progress of both sides. The Committee represents an important tool for enforcing the implementation of all previous and future agreements and is something experts have already called for.

However, Kosovo’s agreement to “immediately launch negotiations on self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo” has yet to officially begin, despite the use of the word “immediately” in the agreement.

Additionally, the lack of specific implementation deadlines in the Annex could result in further delays, as previous agreements have experienced.

The only two specific dates provided in the Annex are related to the EU, requiring the EU to establish the Joint Monitoring Committee in 30 days and to organize a donor conference within 150 days to secure financial and investment aid packages for both sides.

It remains to be seen if the EU will respect its deadlines and whether this kind of incentive will be enough to accelerate the normalization process.

What happened after March 18?

Even though Pristina was hoping for mutual recognition, the agreement only contains a provision in Article 4 of the EU proposal that parties will not object to one another regarding membership in international organizations.

However, Serbian President Vucic stated that Serbia will not recognize Kosovo or its UN membership. This raises concerns about the credibility of the agreement and its implementation, given that Vucic made his position clear immediately after the negotiations concluded.

Considering the underwhelming results of the agreement, it seems that the EU and the U.S. have given up on mutual recognition for now. Despite significant pressure, full normalization of relations appears unlikely to be achieved immediately.

Instead of enforcing a quick solution and risking their credibility, the focus will be on gradually normalizing economic relations, followed by a slow process of political normalization.

Thus, the strategy has shifted towards enabling Kosovo’s membership in international organizations and focusing on full normalization for a later stage.

Will the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities finally be implemented?

Despite PM Kurti’s statement that there will not be autonomy for Serbs, it has become apparent that all previous agreements, including establishing the Association/Community of Serb-Municiaplities (ASM), must be implemented.

Moreover, there are concerns that the terminology in the Annex providing self-management for the Serbian community could imply an even greater degree of autonomy than what was agreed upon in the 2015 agreement.

Serbia has consistently emphasized the importance of implementing the ASM, which will likely remain a significant challenge for Prime Minister Kurti.

Kurti has demonstrated a willingness to change his position on this matter. His rhetoric has evolved over the past three years. Initially, he was staunchly against the ASM. However, he later proposed six conditions that needed to be met for its implementation. Currently, his opinion has shifted in favor of self-management without granting autonomy.

This shift was not well-received in Kosovo, leading to a decline in Kurti’s approval rating. To show their frustration with the government, some opposition activists threw a cake and milkshake at Deputy PM Besnik Beslimi, who had previously stated that he would resign if the government accepted the ASM.

Overall, the Franco-German proposal, which was grandiosely announced last year, has been a source of disappointment rather than a meaningful outcome to normalizing relations. The proposal attempted to avoid red lines from both Kosovo and Serbia to satisfy both sides.

It did not explicitly mention the ASM for Kosovo (instead, it ambiguously camouflaged as self-management), while for Serbia, it does not mention state recognition. This Agreement and its Annex, remain ambiguous much like previous agreements.

It remains to be seen whether this agreement will represent a turning point in the normalization process or delay it further.

05 prill 2023

Milos Pavkovic