Monday

20th Sep 2021

'Lame' Kosovo president boycotts EU talks

  • Kosovo president Hashim Thaçi (l) in the US in February (Photo: state.gov)

Miroslav Lajčák, the EU's new envoy on Kosovo-Serbia peace talks, is travelling to Pristina for the first time in his mandate in the next few days.

But Kosovo president Hashim Thaçi has refused to meet him in his official capacity.

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  • EU special envoy for Kosovo-Serbia talks Miroslav Lajčák (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

More than that, Thaçi has said he will only do peace talks with the White House instead, abandoning a nine-year legacy of an EU-brokered dialogue, which began in 2011, but stalled in 2018.

Thaçi has even declined to take phone calls from Lajčák since the former Slovak foreign minister took up his EU post in April.

An US special envoy on Kosovo-Serbia peace talks, Richard Grenell, has also declined to take Lajčák's calls.

"Mr Lajčák made an outreach to both and declared readiness to discuss the issues. Neither of them responded properly. One [Thaçi] makes public remarks, the other one [Grenell] seems to be too busy to find the time," an EU source said on Wednesday (10 June)

Thaçi's public remarks, on Kosovo TV on Tuesday, were that: "There, where a political process is led by the United States, it will be me. There, where it will be a process [led] by the European Union or Lajčák, then, of course, the government [of Kosovo] is given the opportunity to work for the interests of [the country]".

"I have full confidence that the ... very energetic role of ambassador Grenell, will move [things] toward a productive and effective dialogue," Thaçi also said on Wednesday.

Thaçi was boycotting Lajčák, his office told EUobserver, because the EU envoy was too lowly, in protocol terms, compared to EU foreign relations chiefs, who personally chaired Kosovo-Serbia talks in the past.

And if Grenell, Thaçi, and Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić made a deal in the White House instead of in Brussels, then the EU would have to live with it, Thaçi's people said.

Grenell sources told EUobserver: "He's ... consistently said that all parties (you mention the EU) are welcome to bring their ideas to the table".

But when asked why Grenell had declined to take Lajčák's phone calls, Grenell's people said: "No comment ... at this time".

For its part, the EU foreign service rejected Thaçi's protocol complaint, saying the EU "continues to work through the high representative [for foreign affairs] Josep Borrell" on the dossier.

Lajčák's appointment "reflects the importance member states attach to the dialogue and the confidence of all the EU member states in the person of the new EUSR [EU special representative] Mr Lajčák," it added.

Torpedo

"The EU-facilitated dialogue is the only way to turn Kosovo's European future into a reality for its citizens," the EU foreign service also said.

And it was the only UN-mandated peace process on Kosovo and Serbia, a senior EU official recently noted.

If those remarks sounded like a torpedo aimed at any rival White House deal, that is because they were.

"Kosovo claims to want to join the EU, not the US. How does Thaçi want to join the EU by ignoring it? Because rejecting the main point man of the EU for the region means turning his back to the EU," an EU source told EUobserver on Wednesday.

Thaçi was "just [trying] to attract some attention ... and obviously has no other better agenda how to achieve it. It's very lame and misguided and he [Thaçi] knows it," the EU source said.

Fort his part, Serbia's Vučić has said he is ready to do business with Lajčák, an EU official added.

And Lajčák had the full support of Germany, the principle EU actor in the Western Balkans, they added.

Lajčák was "in regular communication with Berlin" and "Germany is very serious about supporting the [EU] dialogue", the EU official said.

But sour grapes aside, that left open the question of what a peace deal might look like.

For Kosovo's new prime minister, Avduallah Hoti, who, given Thaçi's boycott, will now be Lajčák's interlocutor, the peace deal must include mutual recognition of Kosovo and Serbia and Kosovo's UN membership.

It must also exclude territorial swaps.

"The first principle is that the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo is non-negotiable," Hoti said on Wednesday.

Germany, and most other EU countries, agree with him on land-swaps.

Pandora's box

The idea was "dangerous" because it could open a "Pandora's box" of calls for other border changes in the war-scarred Western Balkans, an EU official recently said.

"Many member states ... were very clear about refusing this idea. There was not a single member state that would be speaking out in favour of this," the EU official said, referring to a recent meeting of EU states' ambassadors in the Political and Security Committee in the EU Council in Brussels.

But all that posed other questions, for instance: What will Hoti and the EU do if Grenell, Thaçi, and Vučić opened Pandora's box anyway?

Thaçi and White House aides have, in the past, spoken of swapping an ethnic Serb enclave in Kosovo (North Mitrovica) for an ethnic Albanian one in Serbia (the Preševo Valley).

Thaçi's office, when pressed on the matter on Wednesday, declined to categorically rule out territorial swaps, in the same terms as Hoti or Germany have done.

Grenell has said it would be OK for the US, if it was OK by Thaçi and Vučić.

And when pressed on the issue by EUobserver earlier this week, Grenell's office also declined to rule it out.

"All I can really tell you is that a land swap has never been part of the SPE's talks" so far, a state department contact said, referring to Grenell's formal title of "special presidential representative".

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