The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo are due to hold talks on February 27 in Brussels, where an agreement to normalize relations between the two Balkan nations will be at the top of the agenda.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is set to host the meeting between Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who have been discussing the agreement for months under a diplomatic push by the EU and the United States.
The text of the deal has not been published by either government or the European Union. But the EU has said it includes mutual recognition of official documents, increased financial aid, and other measures to improve the lives of people in both Serbia and Kosovo.
The document does not explicitly mention mutual recognition or membership of Kosovo in the United Nations, which Kosovo insists on. Vucic has said that the plan stipulates that Serbia wouldn’t object to Kosovo’s inclusion in international organizations, though it wouldn’t have to formally recognize its statehood.
A senior EU official who spoke to reporters last week said there is “a lot of substance” in the EU plan, which he said would “greatly relax the atmosphere and remove” many obstacles. He added that the result could restart the “locomotive” of European integration.
The EU does not expect leaders to continue debating the plan but is open to discussions on its implementation, according to a senior EU official quoted by Reuters on February 24.
“We expect the two leaders to endorse the proposal,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
Kurti received a joint letter from French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni ahead of the meeting.
It invites Pristina and Belgrade to implement without conditions the agreements reached so far within the framework of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, including the one on the formation of an association of municipalities with a Serbian majority.
Kurti has argued that such an association would give Belgrade an outsize influence in Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority, while Serbia says it is needed to protect the rights of Serbs.
Vucic also received a letter from the three European leaders, according to Serbia’s Beta news agency, but the content of the letter is not known.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 in a move endorsed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and most major European powers but rejected by Serbia and Russia.
Recent tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, including Pristina’s plans to implement a car license renewal scheme coupled with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have revived fears of war breaking out in the region.
Following recent rounds of diplomacy, Kurti and Vucic signaled qualified support for the plan but they also complained about specific aspects of it.
Another complication is that Russia has tried to derail negotiations on the deal, a senior EU official told AFP.
The official said both sides have accepted in principle the terms of the plan, but its success will depend on the two sides implementing the proposals in the coming months despite the efforts of Moscow to stir up opposition in Serbia.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP