13th Jul 2020

Serbia and EU reach breakthrough on Kosovo resolution

  • Belgrade is accepting an EU-friendly resolution on the Kosovo issue (Photo: CharlesFred)

Eleventh-hour talks between the EU and Serbia have seen Belgrade accept an EU-friendly draft resolution on the thorny question of Kosovo ahead of a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) vote on the text in New York on Thursday (9 September).

"This draft resolution will now be a resolution put forward by 28 European countries. All 27 EU member states and Serbia will be co-sponsoring this draft resolution," EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in a communique out late on Wednesday.

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"This result today is a reflection of our common commitment to Serbia's European perspective. After the UNGA vote ... the important thing will be that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina can start."

For his part, Serb President Boris Tadic said in a statement: "[We] found a formula that opens a dialogue on future solutions, which refers to the Charter of the United Nations and that does not include recognition of Kosovo independence in any way."

The joint draft resolution replaces a previous text put forward by Serbia alone which dubbed "unacceptable" an opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in July that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence did not violate international law.

The new resolution also "welcomes the readiness of the EU to facilitate the process of dialogue," effectively shifting the venue for future talks from the United Nations, where 122 out of 192 members do not recognise Kosovo, to the EU sphere, where five out of 27 members do not recognise it.

Mr Tadic's u-turn was greeted with outrage by the opposition Democratic Party in Serbia and by ethnic Serb leaders in Kosovo.

But EU diplomats said that regional development and the nuts and bolts of Kosovo and Serbia's EU integration are more important than UN debates about the meaning of the ICJ opinion.

"We have all agreed in the EU that the main focus is looking toward the future and in that future there is an EU perspective for both Serbia and Kosovo," one senior diplomat said.

"The question is not what did the [ICJ] verdict say, what did it not say, what are the implications of this. The question is do we want an endless discussion about that or do we want to focus on the future?"

The EU breakthrough comes after a dinner in Brussels on Tuesday between Ms Ashton and Mr Tadic followed by telephone diplomacy on Wednesday.

Ms Ashton did not clinch the deal by herself. In the past few months Germany and the UK have told Serbia that a hostile UN resolution will harm its EU integration prospects. German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle in Belgrade on 26 August said: "The map of southeastern Europe has been laid down and completed."

The EU-sponsored Kosovo-Serbia talks will be a difficult assignment. Serbia refuses to meet with Kosovar delegates in their official capacity due to status implications. And an ethnic-Serb-dominated chunk of northern Kosovo is currently a de facto Serb protectorate.

Kosovo and Serbia also face big obstacles on their path to EU membership.

The EU is yet to find a legal formula for signing even a basic trade pact with Kosovo because the five non-recognising EU members refuse to designate it as a legal entity which can be a party to a contract. Meanwhile, Serbia must hand over war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic, believed by the UN to be hiding in the country, before it can take its next big step to EU accession.

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Wanted: EU-US cooperation on Kosovo

International burden-sharing worked in Kosovo - until the Trump administration announced White House talks with the presidents of Kosovo and Serbia on June 27, leaving the EU special envoy for the Western Balkans in the dark.

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