Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Serbia and Kosovo partially defuse their conflict

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, August 30th 2022 à 15:50 | Read 248 times

SERBIA / KOSOVO. Reason has finally prevailed, at least temporarily, in the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo. Belgrade and Pristina have indeed reached, Saturday, August 17, 2022, an "agreement on freedom of movement.

At the end of July 2022, the Kosovo authorities published a law requiring that everyone living in the country, including Serbs, have an identity card issued by Kosovo and that their Serbian license plates be replaced by Kosovo plates. Albin Kurti, the Kosovar Prime Minister, invoked a principle of reciprocity.

The Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, then pounded his fist on the table in the face of this affront, which was considered vexatious for the Serbian minority (120,000 people), while Serbia still considers Kosovo to be an autonomous province (Kosovo-and-Metohija) and therefore an integral part of its territory. The Serbs have never recognized its self-proclaimed independence, announced in February 2008 after a two-month war between the two nations and the intervention of nato against the Serbian army. The European Union does not recognize it either, because five member states (Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia) refuse to do so and it would take the unanimity of the 27 to do so. Neither does the UN.

"A European solution to facilitate travel"

The implementation of this decision was first postponed to one month, thanks to the impetus of the United States. It was therefore to come into effect on September 1, 2022. The Americans, NATO, and especially the Europeans have been at work in recent days to calm the spirits between the two capitals.

A meeting in Brussels, in mid-August within the framework of the "Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue", led since 2011 by the European Commission, had not allowed progress on the subject. The discussions of the last few days with the various mediators have made it possible to get out of the rut. "I am very pleased that we have found a European solution that facilitates travel between Kosovo and Serbia. This is in the interest of all citizens of Kosovo and Serbia. I want to thank both leaders for making this happen, especially President Vučić, who has shown responsibility and leadership today," commented, Saturday, August 27, 2022, Josep Borrell. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and main mediator on this issue was keen to thank "our American partners" and the "excellent work done" by the EU Special Representative, Miroslav Lajčák.

Kosovar plates absent from the Agreement

Albin Kurti refuses to give in on license plates, but grants more time (photo: Kosovo Government)
Albin Kurti refuses to give in on license plates, but grants more time (photo: Kosovo Government)
The "Agreement on freedom of movement" signed between Serbia and Kosovo will allow citizens of both countries to move freely from one state to another. Belgrade has waived the requirement for a special permit for visitors with a Kosovar identity card entering Serbia. And Kosovo has agreed to waive residence permits for people entering Kosovo with a Serbian identity card.

The result is tangible, but the chapter on Kosovar plates is not included in this text. In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, August 28, 2022, Albin Kurti said that "this measure as such is not directed against the Serbs, but it is taken in the interest of the rule of law and legitimacy. The Kosovar Prime Minister will grant additional time. "We are giving a two-month opportunity to all owners of cars with Serbian license plates to convert them to RKS (Republic of Kosovo license plates)," he said. This postpones this obligation until October 31, 2022.

"Serbs who agree to convert their car plates to RKS will be exempted from VAT, customs and excise duties, about 5000 euros per car," he adds. Before insisting: "We hope then to see no more car license plates that are not legitimate and legal."

Josep Borrell asks for pragmatism and constructiveness from both leaders

"The work is not finished. Some problems remain unresolved," warned Josep Borrel. "The crisis continues (...) and is getting worse," Aleksandar Vučić also indicated, seeing the disagreement over license plates as a "much more complicated" problem to solve. "We will always seek to preserve peace and stability, fight for peace and stability, but not for a second, rest assured, as I promised you, we will not deviate from our vital national and state interests, but above all from the interests of our people, your security and safety. No surrender, no abandonment. Long live Serbia," the Serbian president said on August 21, 2022, in a speech to the people of his "province of Kosovo-and-Metohija.

Discussions will therefore continue, but in a calmer climate after these major advances. It is indeed the first time that Serbia recognizes an administrative document established by Kosovo. "I expect the two leaders to continue to be pragmatic and constructive in order to resolve the problem of license plates," said Josep Borrell.

However, the two countries do not have a free hand and cannot cross certain red lines. Already, in mid-August 2022, NATO threatened to "intervene" its peacekeeping force in the country, the KFOR, "if stability was threatened". The organization said it was ready to increase its forces to "restore freedom of movement.

The European Union also has significant leverage to resolve disputes. If only because Serbia has had candidate status since 2012 and Kosovo is a potential candidate.

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