2023 Serbia – Kosovo: Normalization of Relations – Imperative

Relations between Serbia and Kosovo had a tumultuous start to 2023.

2023 Kosovo: Implementation of Brussels and Washington agreements
President of the Republic Kosovo Albin Kurti and President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: dialogue-info.com
In late 2022, tensions threatened to escalate into an armed conflict. However, the intervention of the EU, and primarily the US and NATO, prevented an outbreak of a new conflict in the region, writes the IFIMES.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the culmination of tensions in the North of Kosovo prompted the international factor to get more actively involved in the finalization of the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Pristina. Through their envoys and in cooperation with the EU and US, France, and Germany prepared a plan[2] for the normalization of relations, which is imperative. The Franco-German plan focuses on the implementation of previously brokered agreements and the full normalization of relations. EU and NATO members which had not recognized the independence of Kosovo (Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Cypress, and Greece), as well as Russia and China, at the UN level, together with other UN Security Council permanent members and half of UN members which do not recognize Kosovo as an independent state, could be a possible impediment to the implementation of the Franco-German plan.

Analysts believe that achievement of a step forward in the dialogue would require the unconditional establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo as per the Brussels[3] agreement from 2013, which would lead to the return of Serbs to Kosovo institutions from which the withdrew in November 2022. Through the proposed plan both parties reaffirm their obligations pertaining to the implementation of all previously signed agreements.

Franco-German plan for normalization of relations 

Envoys from France, Germany, the EU, the US, and Italy recently met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti (LVV) in an attempt to convince them to sign an 11-point plan aimed at lowering tensions and full normalization of relations. 

By March 2023, Kosovo and Serbia should state whether they accept the international plan for normalization of relations or they will face consequences from the EU and US. Accession to the EU is possible in 2030, and by then Serbia and Kosovo would receive economic aid through donations. Furthermore, new investments would follow as well. Serbia would be gradually integrated into EU structures, such as the European common market, which provides for the free flow of goods, people, capital, and services. 

Serbia would also get economic aid through donations and favorable loans, as well as investments in the energy sector, which would free Serbia from dependence on Russia and the Russian monopoly in the sector. 

Although the initially proposed Franco-German plan is an important step in the normalization process, both sides would continue the EU-mediated dialogue process, with a new impetus, which should lead to a legally binding and comprehensive agreement on the normalization of relations. In the future, Serbia and Kosovo would deepen their cooperation in the areas of economy, science and technology, traffic, communications, relations in the judiciary and law enforcement, postal services and telecommunications, health care, culture, religion, sports, environment protection, missing persons and other areas through brokering of separate agreements. 

Analysts believe that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić had taken initiative in relation to the resolution of the Kosovo issue by not refusing to discuss the proposed Franco-German plan for normalization of relations. Namely, in the past 30 years, Serbia had predominantly refused proposed solutions and subsequently paid a high price for that. Vučić confirmed that he is a true statesman because he has ventured into the resolution of the most difficult state and national issue, despite all the challenges and dangers associated with it. He is aware of the fact that any further destabilization and deterioration of the security situation in Kosovo would cost Serbs the most, as their biological survival would be threatened. Therefore, it is required to achieve a general social and political consensus of both the government and the opposition on the most important state and national issues. The Serb Orthodox Church is expected to officially take a stance on the issue and thus “dot the i’s”. In Serbia, the opposition does not understand its role. Namely, instead of being an opposition to Vučić, more often than not it is an opposition to the state of Serbia. After Slobodan MiloševićVuk Jeremić caused the biggest damage to Serbia with respect to Kosovo by raising the issue of the legality of Kosovo before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, when the Court ruled that the declaration of independence by Kosovo was in line with international law.

Orchestrated attacks on Kurti 

At the parliamentary elections held on 14 February 2021, the Lëvizja Vetëvendosje (LVV)/Self-determination Movement/ led by Albin Kurti defeated the previously ruling politico-mafia and criminal structures, which had shaped the fate of Kosovo over the past 30 years. 

The politico-criminal structures and intelligence underground were behind the orchestrated attacks on Albin Kurti. The attacks were aimed to prevent the arrival of Kurti and the LVV to power. 

Different affairs are continuously produced in Kosovo in order to destabilize the situation, try to topple Albin Kurti’s government, and thus postpone the normalization of relations between official Pristina and Belgrade. The foreign factor involved in such activities is coordinated from Budapest, which is using a similar “recipe” to destabilize North Macedonia as well.  Politicians from some EU and NATO member countries, such as the former Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša (SDS/EPP), are also involved in the production of scandals. Specifically, in coordination with certain circles in Budapest, he produced an affair by using fabrications aimed to prevent the victory of Robert Golob (GS/ALDE) at the parliamentary elections. However, he was not successful in his plans. As a result, after the elections, the activities were aimed to overthrow Robert Golob’s government in Slovenia and Albin Kurti’s government in Kosovo. Both of these governments are left-center governments. It is common knowledge that normalization of relations is not in the interest of Russia because the resolution of the “frozen conflict” and normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina diminishes the importance and role of Russia in the Western Balkans. The production/launching of scandals in Kosovo predominantly serves Russian interests. Specific Kosovo-Albanian politicians and part of political parties and media got wittingly involved or were drawn into such activities. In the past, the leftists gravitated to Moscow, while now Moscow has become a refuge and support to European (radical) rightists. European Putinians are embedded in EU institutions, particularly the European People’s Party, which is the leading group in the EU. Janez Janša is a symbol of that group, while the leaked “non-papers”, which are attributed to him, have brought the situation in the Western Balkan region to the brink of armed conflict.  In fact, the investigations that are underway in Bosnia and Herzegovina and related to the funding of Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) will expose his role in the developments in the region. Through Janez Janša and his activities the EU and EPP evidently contribute to peace and stability in the Western Balkans

Serbia at the historical peak of economic development 

Serbia carefully monitors and considers global trends. It uses a thoroughly thought-out, planned, coordinated, strategic and long-term foreign policy to position and rebrand itself on the international scene. Serbia has managed to strengthen its relations with numerous countries around the world, as no other country has in the region. It can even serve as an example to other bigger and more developed countries in Europe. The recently signed Memorandum between the State Department and the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an outstanding achievement. On the international scene, Serb President Vučić is perceived as an apt negotiator and desirable interlocutor.  

In 2022, Serbia recorded an influx of foreign investment in the amount of 4.4 billion EUR, which is more than all other Western Balkan countries together. It achieved record foreign currency reserves at the level of 17.267 billion EUR. Negotiations are underway for 87 projects worth 8.8 billion Euros and including the creation of 36,000 new jobs. Trade exchange between Serbia and the EU exceeds 40 billion EUR. The discovery of significant deposits of gold ore, and previously lithium and other metals, place Serbia in the group of prosperous countries that will record major economic and general social development in the future. In January 2023, the public debt of Serbia dropped by under 50%. This is far below what Maastricht’s criteria prescribe because the EU average is 94%.

The new credit rating[4] of Serbia for long-term loans is BB+/stable outlook. While the public debt dropped below 50%, pensions have increased by more than 20%. In 2022, the economic growth was below 3% and the GDP exceeded 60 billion EUR. The GDP is expected to grow in 2023 to more than 68 billion EUR. The economic development of Serbia implies a requirement for a significant number of foreign workers. 

Serbia follows global trends, which indicate that the power is shifting from the West towards the East. Therefore, it is developing balanced relations with, not just the EU and the US, but also with Russia and China, as well as other Nonalignment Movement members, which have an important role in the United Nations General Assembly. The EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans is increasingly uncertain. Support for Serbian membership in the EU among citizens is declining and is currently at a level of only 40%. The development of friendly relations with other countries should be a priority of all countries and their foreign policies. 

Analysts believe Serbia is at a historical peak of its economic development and that the Serbian leadership is aware of this fact and will not endanger it. Namely, that is why in international circles Serbian President is called the “pillar of stability

Agreement on normalization of relations– Agreement on EU membership 

Serbia is the epicenter of developments and normalization of relations in the Western Balkans, as well as the engine of the European integration process. Over the past few years, its progress toward membership in the EU was particularly intensified. Serbia has the strongest and most developed personnel and logistic structure with which in a relatively short period of time it can respond to the challenges of the negotiations process and reaffirm the attribute of being the proponent of European integration in the Western Balkans. 

In addition to the historic role and responsibility for peace and stability that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has together with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, the guarantees offered primarily by the EU are not sufficient. The agreement on the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo should represent the agreement among its signatories on membership in the EU. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the position of President Vučić, but also Prime Minister Kurti, as the majority of promises made so far have not been fulfilled. 

It is a paradox that the EU is introducing the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS[5]) for travelers from third countries, including Western Balkan countries. In practice, the ETIAS system means that all citizens of any Western Balkans country will have to fill out a specific application and thus apply for approval of entry to EU, as well as pay a fee. This practically means the silent introduction of a new quasi-visa regime, in comparison to the current free movement granted to all citizens of the Western Balkans. The EU should rescind the introduction of the ETIAS system for the Western Balkans countries and consider speedily integrating all the Western Balkan countries into the EU as a package. 

Analysts believe that if the aim is to normalize relations between the official Belgrade and Pristina, which would provide for a feeling of enduring peace and long-term stability, it is necessary to involve in the process not just the five EU and NATO members that had not recognized Kosovo, but also Russia and China, as without their engagement the normalization of relations would be only partial and temporary. 

The question to be asked is would this EU proposal be “indecent” if Serbia would be offered to become a member of the EU in 2024. This should not be considered impossible bearing in mind the precedent made with Bulgaria and Romania. Furthermore, at this point in time, Serbia is economically and politically much more important for the EU than Romania and Bulgaria were at the time of their integration into the EU. Can the EU swallow the frog to everyone’s benefit? 

Ljubljana/Washington/Brussels/Belgrade/Pristina, 7 February 2023          

[1IFIMES – The International Institute for the Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has had a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.
[2] Source: Albanian post: The Franco-German proposal in nine points, the acceptance of Kosovo’s independence and the formation of the CSM, link: https://www.kosovo-online.com/en/news/politics/albanian-post-franco-german-proposal-nine-points-acceptance-kosovos-independence-and
[3] Brussels Agreement, link: https://www.srbija.gov.rs/cinjenice/en/120394
[4] National Bank of Serbia, Republic of Serbia’s long-term credit rating, link: https://nbs.rs/en/finansijsko_trziste/informacije-za-investitore-i-analiticare/rejtng_RS/index.html
[5] Source: European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), link: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=LEGISSUM%3A4365508

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