One year of the European Agreement: From arm pain to Chapter 35

Beograd Priština DIjalog Brisel

Exactly one year ago, Belgrade and Pristina, or rather, Aleksandar Vučić and Albin Kurti, accepted the Agreement on the path towards the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia Brussels, at the proposal of the European Union, and the suggestion of France and Germany. Since then, the situation on the ground has been marked by the biggest crisis since 2004.

This agreement was supposed to resolve all open issues between Pristina and Belgrade:

Good neighborly relations, strict preservation of peace, resolution of disputes and conflicts exclusively by peaceful means, refraining from the threat or use of force, recognition of the symbols of Kosovo, diplomas, greater rights for Kosovo Serbs via the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities…

Instead, the past year will be remembered by new tensions, especially in the north of Kosovo: the elections in April boycotted by Serbs, ethnic Albanian mayors taking office, the conflict in May between Serbs and KFOR members due to the installation of new mayors into municipalities, the September armed conflict between Serbs and the Kosovo Police in the village of Banjska, and finally – the Central Bank of Kosovo regulation which removed the Serbian dinar from circulation.

The year started with the crisis on the ground and visibly strained relations between Belgrade and Pristina on the one hand, and on the other, international successes with the adoption of this agreement, resulting in conflicting stances in the public about whether the agreement is being implemented or not.

The poll we published on our social networks revealed that the majority of respondents felt changes „for the worse“ in the last year and believed that the agreement was being implemented.

European agreement in chapter 35 and de facto recognition

„The European plan has been accepted“ – Josep Borrell said from Brussels on this day a year ago.

The frog that has been cooking for the public for months, since September 2022, has become a ready-made 11-point agreement; and the former Franco-German plan, was presented to Belgrade and Pristina as a „take it or leave it“ proposal.

The President of Serbia confirmed: The European plan is de facto a new negotiating framework for Serbia. At the same time, he also underlined: Nothing has been signed, the ASM is a done deal in the months before us.

Despite these confirmations, he was surprised at the beginning of this year, how the same agreement is requested to become part of Serbia’s obligation for Chapter 35.

The ASM has yet to be formed, and there was a visible change in the balance of forces on the ground. Vučić himself has repeated on several occasions that there will be no ASM, that is, that the current composition of the Pristina government will not form this body.

The climate before the adoption of the agreement, into which the wider political scene in Pristina and Belgrade had no insight

Although neither the public nor the opposition, neither in Belgrade nor in Pristina, had insight into the content of the paper which then turned into an agreement for months, before its adoption, in early February, the assemblies of Serbia and Kosovo launched a discussion on the „mysterious plan“, whose content remained unknown for the MPs.

The main star of the session in Belgrade – Aleksandar Vučić, and in Pristina – Albin Kurti.

Frenzied cries and applause with a standing ovation from Srpska Lista members gathered on the balcony of the Serbian Parliament, led by Milan Radoičić, and SNS in the parliamentary benches, banners exclaiming treason displayed inside and outside the parliament, pictures of Oliver Ivanović, pushing and shoving – this is how the two-day all-day work of the Serbian Parliament at the beginning of February can be briefly described.

For me, the Constitution is the Holy Scripture, there is no surrender or capitulation, but we will negotiate even on the worst papers, Aleksandar Vučić said in the assembly.

„For me – as the president of Serbia, the Constitution is the Holy Scripture – capitulation and surrender are not options. If it comes to the point that Kosovo should enter the UN, I know what I will do. There is no choice between Vučić or Serbia. Vučić is always on the side of Serbia, I will choose Serbia, and Vučić is not important.“

The very fact that the plan, the content of which was not officially published, was discussed for several days should not have caused concern among the deputies because the president consoled them by saying that 90% of what had been published about it was correct.

Indeed, while officials on all three sides were conspicuously silent about the content of the proposal, the news about it has been circulating in the media since mid-September 2022, first shared by the Albanian Post.

They didn’t have insight into the plan, but they did criticize the authorities. „The results of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s policy are apocalyptic for the country of Serbia, tragic for its citizens, disastrous for future generations and catastrophic from the aspect of our national interests,“ said Democratic Party MP Srdjan Milivojević. This turned out to be the core message of the opposition.

A special session of the Assembly was also held in Pristina. While Vučić testified about his statesmanship in Belgrade, Kurti did the same in Pristina.

Both of them addressed the topic of the ASM.

While Vučić underscored that there is „nothing to agree and negotiate“ about in regard to the ASM, although he expressed fears that the other side would still refuse to form it, Kurti listed six conditions for its formation. Kosovo officials repeated the same conditions today.

The opposition in Pristina also criticized Kurti for the Franco-German plan, assessing it as a kind of betrayal, especially since the agreement accepted the ASM. Moreover, they disclaimed that February 2, 2023, was the date they will „remember as the day when Kurti decided to accept it“, noting that the Kosovo PM faced a problem on how to explain it to the deputies.

They also protested because of the non-transparent content of the plan itself.

Although the agreement was not made public at the time, signs that it would be introduced could be spotted through the activities of international diplomacy: invitations of the highest diplomats, joint letters and visits to Vučić and Kurti, and meetings in Brussels and other places.

What was fulfilled

The European proposal was accepted on February 27, and published a day later. The first implementation plan, known as the Ohrid Annex, was adopted on March 18.

The European Union agreement and the Implementation Annex came into force together with the statement of Josep Borrell after the meeting in Ohrid.

„We have an agreement,“ said the head of European diplomacy. It was not signed due to „legal“ reasons, Borrell announced two days after the Ohrid annex.

Lobbying, support, and a letter from Kosovo and Serbian civil organizations ind
icated that the Ohrid annex would follow. Members of certain organizations from Serbian and Kosovo civil society sent a joint appeal to the President of Serbia and the Prime Minister of Kosovo to accept and sign the European Union agreement.

The issue of the internationalization of the Albanians in the south of Serbia was also raised, and already in March, Shaip Kamberi said from Washington that they went there to request that this issue be included in the dialogue.

In line with the agreement, a declaration on the missing persons was agreed in April, and in the following days, various information about the use of problematic terms was brought to the fore.

A committee was formed to monitor the implementation of the agreement in Ohrid in April.

Cards shown

It appeared as if the West could „breathe a sigh of relief“ after the adoption of two documents. They showed their cards.

The first concrete messages about Kosovo as an independent country were sent by the diplomatic trio through a letter to Blic and Koha: „Serbia to come to terms with the fact that Kosovo is a neighboring country, Kosovo to protect Serbs“.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken soon announced that the implementation of the agreement actually leads to the recognition of five non-recognizers of Kosovo.

The President of Serbia quickly denied the allegations. „Where does it say, which agreement says this, since I also listened to these various mediators. Well, it doesn’t say so anywhere. Of course it doesn’t. It’s another one of many lies and nothing more,“ he said on „Novo jutro“ on TV Pink.

„It is legally binding for Serbia when I put a signature or stamp on something or when I verbally agree to it,“ said Vučić. He underlined that Serbia does not want to use tricks.

It was all in vain. Legal experts agreed that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s oral acceptance of the European agreement on Kosovo in Brussels was illegal, that the president thereby exceeded his constitutional powers and should therefore be dismissed, but also that the agreement is still legally binding.

However, throughout the year, the plan was mostly contested among the Serbian public, including those who accepted it, while the points on the ASM were also criticized in Pristina, followed by persistent calls for Serbia to sign the agreement, thus ensuring its implementation by Serbia.

„I feel unbearable pain in my right hand, and I can only sign with that hand, and that pain will continue for the next four years,“ Vučić said at the time.

The year ended with the conclusion that although not signed, this agreement is still legally binding for both parties.

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