Miroslav Lajcak, the European Union’s special representative for the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, believes that an agreement reached over the weekend between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti represents a turning point in the process of normalization of relations.
Both sides now must implement all articles of the agreement on the road to normalization of relations, Lajcak said on March 21 in a joint interview with RFE/RL and Euronews Serbia.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced on March 18 that the two sides had reached agreement on ways to implement the EU-backed deal.
Borrell made the announcement after talks with Vucic and Kurti in Ohrid, North Macedonia, noting that the implementing commitments from both sides are preconditions for their integration into the EU.
The agreement envisages that Belgrade will not recognize Kosovo under international law but will take note of its statehood and recognize Kosovo’s passports and custom documents.
Kosovo is a former Serbian province with an ethnic Albanian majority. Even though Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Serbia still claims it as its territory.
One of the sticking points has been the formation of the Community of Municipalities with a Serbian majority in Kosovo.
Kosovo has an obligation to immediately start implementing the agreement related to the community, Lajcak said, while Article 4 of the agreement states that Serbia will not oppose Kosovo’s membership in any international organization.
Lajcak called the agreement “an important milestone,” but admitted in the interview that the EU had a more ambitious plan that included the signing of an agreement and a draft annex with clear timeframes and tasks.
“It is no secret here that we, as mediators, initially prepared a more detailed implementation annex with a sequence of steps and clear deadlines,” Lajcak said.
But it was not possible for the leaders to agree on every point, and Vucic refused to sign the document, citing constitutional restrictions, he said.
“After several hours of negotiations, the parties managed to agree on 12 of the 18 points, but it was impossible to bridge the differences on the remaining six,” he said. “We tried in many, many ways to bridge these differences, but it was clear that we were not going to succeed. And that’s why we presented a new annex that was more general.”
In the end, they agreed that the document would be formalized through Borrell’s statement. This means that it is binding, official, and formal, “and all speculations about whether or not it is valid and binding are meaningless,” Lajcak said.
Lajcak said there will soon be a meeting of the chief negotiators of Serbia and Kosovo in order to start work on the implementation of provisions of the agreement.
Lajcak also explained that the Joint Oversight Committee is the platform where matters related to implementation will be monitored and evaluated, and it will be established as agreed within 30 days. It’s too early to discuss the composition of the committee, he said, but representatives of Kosovo, Serbia, and the EU will be part of it.
Mediators will report to EU member states once a month on progress and will continue to cooperate very closely with the United States, he said.
Lajcak expressed optimism about the future, saying the negotiations had been focused on a positive agenda for the last several months.
“I really believe that with this agreement, with the new platform and the things that need to be done in coordination with partners, we have to move forward, not backward,” he said.
But he also stressed that neither side should take any unilateral action that could destabilize the atmosphere and the normalization process.