Tensions escalate between Serbia and Kosovo despite leaders’ tacit approval of EU plan

Kosovo has accused Serbia of refusing to sign a European Union-sponsored plan to normalize relations after months of rising political tensions.

On Monday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti tacitly endorsed an EU plan to end the months-long political crisis and improve bilateral relations.

The agreement provides that both countries will 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 agreed to deepen future cooperation in the fields of economics, science and technology, transport and communications, judiciary and law enforcement, health, sports, environmental protection and missing persons.

Both countries want to join the EU, which has told them they need to sort out their differences first. The agreement states that they will not interfere with each other’s steps to join the bloc.

Recently, tensions have flared over seemingly trivial issues such as vehicle license plate formats or the arrest of an ethnic Serb police officer.

“By the end of this year, we cannot achieve the implementation of the agreement in full. Elections must first be held in northern Kosovo (after the resignation of Serbian mayors). This is the main condition for the formation of the Association of Serbia. Municipalities. Without them, this association is not possible,” Fatmir Seholy from the Institute for Promotion of Interethnic Relations told Euronews Serbia.

New fears have emerged among Western leaders that tensions could escalate into a new conflict in the Balkans, just as Russia’s war in Ukraine is in its second year.

The EU has been mediating negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo since 2011, but few of the 33 agreements signed have been implemented. The EU and US have been pushing for faster progress since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

“Free interpretation is allowed, and now, after the agreement is published, the main question is how the citizens of Kosovo and Serbia will react to the proposed text,” said Jovana Radosavljevic of the Kosovo-based NGO New Social Initiative.

Serbia and Kosovo reaffirmed their commitment to comply with all past dialogue agreements. Albania described the deal as a “major achievement” although it has yet to be signed.

EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrell said “more work is needed” and that the two leaders will meet again next month.

In recent months, US and EU envoys have regularly visited Pristina and Belgrade to encourage them to accept new proposals, and the two leaders met with senior EU officials on the sidelines of a major security conference in the German city of Munich earlier this month.

“Our expectations from this agreement are very high and I think what is new is not only the seriousness of both governments, but also the seriousness of our European partners to make this happen in the shadow of one of the biggest crises Europe has seen since World War II. This was stated by a senior representative of the US State Department Gabriel Escobar.

Tensions between Serbia and its former province have been rising since Kosovo unilaterally seceded in 2008. The Declaration of Independence was recognized by many Western countries, but opposed by Serbia with the support of Russia and China.

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