Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

EU fails to ease tensions between Serbia and Kosovo

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Friday, August 19th 2022 à 15:53 | Read 166 times

Kosovo wants to force its Serbian inhabitants to change their number plates (photo: F.Dubessy)
Kosovo wants to force its Serbian inhabitants to change their number plates (photo: F.Dubessy)
SERBIA / KOSOVO. No agreement could be reached. This is what Josep Borrell deplored, in the evening of Thursday 18 August 2022, at the end of his meeting in Brussels with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti. The European Union (EU) vice-president and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, tried to reason with the two men as their conflict has escalated in recent weeks.

The EU's diplomatic chief was speaking in the context of the "Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue", which has been led by the European Commission since 2011. The understanding between these countries is a sine qua non condition for their accession to the EU and Josep Borrell did not hesitate to remind everyone of this. Serbia has had candidate status since 2012, while Kosovo is only a potential candidate.

Tensions flared up again at the end of July 2022 when the Kosovo authorities published a law requiring everyone living in Kosovo, including Serbs, to have an identity card issued by Kosovo and to replace their Serbian number plates with Kosovo plates. The Kosovars invoke a principle of reciprocity.

This decision is unacceptable to Belgrade, which still considers this region to be an integral part of its territory (see box below) and considers it vexatious for the Serbian minority. At the instigation of the United States, Pristina agreed to postpone the entry into force of the text by one month, to 1 September 2022. But this is not enough to calm Serbian minds. There are only two weeks left to find common ground.

NATO ready to intervene

"We are seeing the return of war to our continent after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We are facing a dramatic and very dangerous moment for our continent. And this is not the time to increase tensions. It is time to look for solutions and to resolve the issues that have been pending for a long time," Josep Borell stressed in his speech after the talks. "There are, of course, well-known differences between them as to their views on the final status of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, on what it should be. But they agreed to continue discussions on a regular basis in the coming period in order to move the normalisation process forward quickly," he said. While firmly warning, "the international community does not want to see a resurgence of tension in the period ahead. Both sides will be fully responsible for any escalation on the ground".

The two politicians therefore agreed to resume negotiations in the coming days, without much conviction. "I hope that a miracle will come and that we will reach an agreement. I will continue to fight for peace and stability," says Aleksandar Vucic. Before adding, "it does not depend on me (...) there is a new generation of young people (Serbs) in Kosovo who will not tolerate this situation, who will not want to endure terror, who do not see Kosovo as an independent state, but as a territory of Serbia, in accordance with international law".

Albin Kurti paints a different picture. "On the one hand you have the democratic state of Kosovo with its professional police. On the other, you have illegal Serbian structures, turned into criminal gangs, which are building barricades," he said. "The institutions and citizens of Kosovo, in the current situation, have reason to be vigilant about our northern neighbour's destructive approach to Kosovo and the region in general, as part of Russia's damaging agenda for Europe and the Balkans," he adds.

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), had also received, on Wednesday 17 August 2022, the two men to call for "restraint", "good faith" and urged them to "prevent further escalation". On Wednesday 17 August 2022, he also warned that NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR, established since 1999) was "ready to intervene if stability is threatened" and would ensure "freedom of movement for all inhabitants".

120,000 Serbs, mainly in the north of the country on the border with Serbia, are registered in Kosovo out of a population of two million. They do not recognise the authority of Kosovo.

Independence not recognised by Serbia, the UN and the EU

Like most of its neighbours, Kosovo (nearly 11,000 km²) was born out of the implosion of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

In March 1999, the Kosovo Albanian militia, the KLA, which favoured independence for its territory, and the army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a remnant of the former Yugoslavia, controlled by Belgrade, began a war that lasted just over two months. NATO intervened to destroy Serbian positions in the north of Kosovo and drive them out of the region. In June 1999, Kosovo was placed under UN administration.

Pristina unilaterally declared its independence in February 2008 under the name of Republic of Kosovo. Its status remains unclear, however, as Belgrade has not recognised the independence of its autonomous province since 1945 (named Kosovo-and-Metohija) and still considers it an integral part of its territory.

The UN and the European Union (due to the opposition of five member states: Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia) do not recognise Kosovo either.

The majority of the country's inhabitants are of Albanian origin.

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