Serbia and Kosovo have agreed to implement an EU plan to resolve the decades-long dispute that has emerged since Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence in the wake of the Balkan wars.
The deal was announced late Saturday by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, after 12 hours of talks between the Serbian president and Kosovo’s prime minister on normalizing relations between their countries.
“Finally,” Borrell said, speaking from the North Macedonian resort of Ohrid where Serbia’s Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Albin Kurti met, “we have a deal, we have an agreement on how to do it.”
Serbia has long refused to recognize its former province as independent – a view shared by most of the ethnic Serb community living in Kosovo’s north, thousands of whom still use Serbian ID cards and drive cars with Serbian license plates.
But efforts to reach a settlement have accelerated, with both Serbia and Kosovo seeking to join the European Union.
Western pressure for both sides to resolve their differences intensified as the war in Ukraine entered its second year and fears of potential instability in the Balkans region grew.
“This is not just about Kosovo and Serbia,” Borrell said. “This dialogue should be seen in the current wider geopolitical context, as an important tool for maintaining peace and stability in the wider Western Balkans region.”
An agreement between Belgrade and Pristina was initially reached last month but without a mutually acceptable plan to put it into practice. That second document was thrown out on Saturday, although once again it was not signed.
Borrell said the deal was watered down by a more ambitious version that Kosovo would not accept. Serbia also refused to sign the agreement, although it was willing to implement it.
Kosovo has agreed to “immediately” establish an association of Serb-majority municipalities, a move long sought by Serbs in Kosovo.
Serbia, meanwhile, said it “will not object to Kosovo’s membership of any international organization”. Although not explicitly stated in Saturday’s agreement, this means that Kosovo can become a member of the UN, its historic ambition.
Vučić warned of a difficult road ahead. “It wasn’t D-Day, but it was an okay day,” the Serbian president said. “We took a good step in a constructive environment. We have started acting.”
Kurti called it a “public agreement” and added that “it is up to the EU to find a mechanism to make the status of this agreement legally and internationally binding”.
The EU will make the implementation of the Kosovo-Serbia agreement a condition for the eventual accession of the two countries. Borrell said “there will be consequences” if the parties fail to live up to their commitments.
The EU will convene a donor conference later this year for the benefit of Kosovo and Serbia, withholding any funding until the agreement is completed and fully implemented.