How the president boiled the Franco-German frog and has it been boiled for the Serbs?

Beograd Priština Dijalog Brisel
The European plan has de facto become a new negotiating framework for the Republic of Serbia, the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, confirmed last night. The document in question is known as the so-called Franco-German proposal because it was delivered to Belgrade and Pristina last summer by the advisers of the French president and the German chancellor – before the EU publicly showed its support for the proposal. The full name of the plan reads „Proposal of the European Union supported by France, Germany, and the United States of America (US)“, and it was not made public; although its alleged 10-point content has been repeatedly published by numerous media outlets. Belgrade and Pristina received the last, updated version on December 5th of last year. Serbia, however, insists that the ASM first be established as an unfulfilled obligation from the existing Brussels Agreement, while Pristina, reluctant to do so, insists on mutual recognition. But what did the president of Serbia previously have to say about this proposal?
From refusing to accept the document to a new negotiating framework

At first, Vucic told those who handed him the non-paper in the second half of the year that „they’ve played enough.“

„The Serb people will not put up with this anymore. If you can respect the norms that you have brought yourself – okay, if you can’t, there is someone who will,“ he warned Bonne and Ploetner before meeting with the duo back in September – although he did not do so directly, but by addressing the Serbian public. He reiterated that he „refused to accept a document“ from them, which „didn’t give Serbia a chance“, announcing that Quint is also set to hand him the same document at one of the meetings.

He obtained information about the proposal from Albanian media, accusing the same side of violating the agreement, without explaining which agreement he was talking about. As it turned out, Vucic was talking about the secret Franco-German document.

Although he would later read parts of the proposal from his own papers, confirming that he not only had the proposal in his possession but that he had responded to it, Vucic would still stress each time that the document was not public.

Vucic confirmed on October 8th that there is a proposal from two great powers – Germany and France – on the table, announcing that the paper is not public. However, he revealed that it offers for Serbia to allow Kosovo to join all international organizations and institutions, including the United Nations. In return, Serbia would get immediate entry into the EU and significant economic benefits, with a note at the time that this was also not precisely defined. Vucic said that while he is the president, Serbia would not accept this. However, he failed to specify whether and what steps Serbia will take to prevent Kosovo’s entry into the UN.

In the meantime, it became clear that the proposal does not mention the UN, but only that Serbia will not prevent Kosovo’s entry into international organizations. The proposal does not even mention the approval of Serbia, it can also be against Kosovo’s membership in the UN, however, as Vucic explained last night, „we would de facto accept membership, that is, help others to be able to vote for them to join.“

On the Kosovo side, the Kosovo Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed the existence of the proposal on October 9th, a day after the Serbian President.

A day later, Kurti also confirmed this, with the following words: „There is a Franco-German initiative that wants to give even more power to Mr. Lajcak, as well as continued US support. Various models are being discussed, but there is nothing definitive, let alone decisive, to say that this is a Franco-German proposal.” Additionally, he said at the time that he „proposed the general framework of negotiations – in parallel with the Franco-German proposal“.

He gave a somewhat more moderate statement after the meeting with the five international officials: the European proposal presents „a good basis for further discussion to move toward the full normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, with mutual recognition in the center“. Kurti has often pointed out that he presented the general framework for the agreement as early as August 18.

At this point, the Serbian President started floating a specific deadline for the agreement – February 24th – the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The US ambassador, however, said in an interview just a few days after Vucic made these statements in October, that there are no deadlines, but that both Vucic and Kurti „agreed to consider that proposal and see what can be done.“

From October to date, the president has been sending messages that Serbia wants to talk. Although the conditions are „the most difficult possible for Serbia“, it cannot say „no“ – he stressed.

„When you read it – it makes you want to crawl out of your skin,“ read Vucic’s comments on select points of the secret document he was allowed to read. He also spoke about the clear red lines, one of which is – no UN seat for Kosovo.

More recently, he said: „We are ready to accept the concept and work on the implementation of the proposed agreement, but I made one thing very clear and showed concern and reservation on one important issue.“

In the latest phase, Vucic announces that he will slowly transfer the responsibility to other institutions in the coming months – from the government he met with on Monday, through the National Assembly, and „perhaps the people will declare themselves.“

The Serbian President, however, has yet to officially announce on what issue the people will declare themselves, but he thus more clearly defined the months-long narrative on how Serbia was backed into a corner, how it was not given a shot, and what kind of sanctions it faces.

„You must accept this plan, and if you don’t accept it, because we think it must be accepted, that is, the entire de facto new negotiation framework for the path to Europe, you will face – 1. a break in the European integration process, 2. the end and withdrawal of investments, 3. comprehensive measures in the political and economic sense that will cause great damage to Serbia,“ he conveyed to the public last night what he claims the Big Five told him three times in Belgrade last week. He also revealed that he was “shocked” upon hearing this.

If he had driven them away – „it would be a matter of a week when the visa-free regime with the EU would be abolished.“

Recently, he stop explicitly mentioning the red lines, instead, he addressed the citizens in a milder tone:

„So that you don’t tell me that I accepted or that Serbia accepted something that it didn’t – don’t worry, I want to tell the citizens of Serbia – I said clearly, I’m not going to speak publicly about it, but don’t worry, you all know what I’m talking about, what is unacceptable for Serbia. I was strong enough to say in the face of the big five what it is that I will take on, and what I feel enormous reservations, concerns about and what I will not be able to do.“

Finally, he announced last night that he had insight into the plan 60 days ago, which he refused to accept back in September, although he knew its content even at the time. Perhaps by this, he meant the updated version of the text sent to Belgrade and Pristina on December 5th, after both Kurti and Vucic responded to it in the previous months.

What has President Aleksandar Vucic specifically said from September to date?

September 2022 – January 2023

The first time the new phase in the dialogue was mentioned in the Kosovo and Serbian public, it was done through the involvement of the French president and the German chancellor in early September. At the time, it was revealed that they sent a joint letter to Kurti and Vucic, asking them to show readiness for difficult decisions, and suggested sending their advisers, who have already been described in part of the media as „crisis specialists“.

It was Vucic who gave the first indication of this non-paper on September 8th, on the eve of the arrival of the advisers – Jens Ploetner and Emmanuel Bonne:

„Since I’m not going to beg either of them anymore, I’m now warning both of them not to do this anymore. I’m warning them now not to do that anymore, since the Serb people will no longer tolerate violence, disrespect for international public law, or international public norms, and that is my warning to those who are coming to Belgrade tomorrow, and to everyone else. You played enough. If you can respect the norms that you have brought yourself, okay – if you can’t, there are those who will.“

Vucic claims he rejected the paper that gave Serbia no chance when he welcomed the representatives of the French president and the German chancellor back in October because he knew that the Albanians would rush to publish it. In September, he revealed that he refused to accept it because he knew what will happen, noting that he did read it.

„They live for the press, for newspapers, for parades, charades and everything else. I say, I’m giving you the paper back, I’m not going to take it, and they told me it’s secret. I wanted to show them who was going to publish it. Of course, they published it – in Albanian post, the Times, a copy of the American media. They published it there. And it was clear to everyone who broke the deal. I obtained information from those Albanian international newspapers. And then I saw that tonight, even though Quint asked me for an urgent admission. I will meet with them, I couldn’t yesterday and today, and I assume that they will bring me everything that that Albanian newspaper published again, which is that we have to achieve something by February 24,“ Vucic said on October 21st.

Just a few days later, Vucic’s claims were denied by US Ambassador Christopher Hill, who has been praising President Vucic’s efforts so far. In an interview with VOA, Hill said that there are no specific deadlines, but that both Aleksandar Vucic and Albin Kurti „agreed to consider that proposal and see what can be done.“

The president ceased using the narrative that he is rejecting the paper, instead saying that Serbia wants to talk, but he did so with gaudy descriptions of the difficult and unfair conditions for talks presented by the West.

From the lack of security of Serbs in Kosovo, non-compliance with agreements, the Constitution of Serbia and international public law, to placing conditions and threats of sanctions – he carried the message of Serbia’s hopelessness. Often, he conveyed tones indicating defiance, pressure resistance, and that he would not back down even in case of an ultimatum.

He remarked that the demands were „the most difficult possible for Serbia“, but also that he could not say „no“, but that he wanted to talk. While reading parts of the proposal, he revealed that „he is not allowed to read the whole thing.“

„When you read it – it makes you want to crawl out of your skin.“

For example, Article 2 of the proposal, which is still secret to the public, reads:
„Both sides will be guided by the goals and principles presented in the UN Charter, especially those related to the sovereign equality of all states, respect for their independence, autonomy and territorial integrity, the right to self-determination, etc.“

At that time, he explained that they were making such a proposal to Serbia „whose territorial integrity they destroyed or are trying to and to which they have not even given the right to self-determination, because even today they do not give that right to the Serbian people anywhere, and they gave it to everyone else.“

When they presented the European proposal to him, Vucic told them he presented more than five existing agreements and asked them which ones they wanted to respect.

„None“ – reads the answer he received. „They told me – ‘we respect what suits us from the agreement,'“ said the President of Serbia in the RTS studio in mid-December.

On other occasions, he also spoke out about the disadvantages of this proposal. „They didn’t give us a chance,“ he said in November.

„They put you in the ring and said ‘come on, box for three rounds, we won’t tie your legs, but kicks are forbidden since it’s boxing, but we’ll tie both of your hands with a rope and that’s it. And now you must last for three rounds while the other boxer is beating you, and don’t fall down.“

Since the end of the summer, when the topic of the so-called German-Franco proposal was launched, Vucic had often emphasized: „they didn’t give us a chance“.

„When you are backed into a corner and you have nowhere to go, then you are relaxed and calm. That’s the case with me now. They didn’t give us a chance to accept anything. Literally none. If they had given us any chance we would have grabbed onto something. They didn’t give us a chance.“

On several occasions, he spoke about red lines, as a response to the proposal, confirming that he had already sent a response.

„You also received my verbal answer in Brussels – what are our red lines, what I will not discuss at all. You’re threatening to end the talks. No problem, end them now. And what are you going to do then, do you really think that someone that can be taken seriously can brag about having ended negotiations and talks? How will you solve problems? We say we don’t want Kosovo in the UN. And what will you do then? Bomb us, threaten us with sanctions, based on what act, when the complete legal framework is in favor of Serbia,“ he said in late November, after a temporary agreement on license plates was reached.

He announced that he would send a response to the proposal at the end of October, within 24 hours of October 27.

„Our position is such that our space is limited by microns and they deliberately cornered us with their force and not with the force of arguments,“ he said. On that occasion, he read a few suggested points, with the remark „is this someone’s idea of a joke or what“?

„They are asking us to trample on the UN, UN principles and charters, and resolution 1244 in order to reach their principle and for us to respect in the future what they did not respect in our case. And if it doesn’t happen, then a beating will follow. Well, fine.“

He alleged that the proposal is not in line with the Constitution of Serbia.

After a recent meeting with the US special adviser, Derek Chollet, while confirming that the Franco-German proposal was discussed, he also revealed that Serbia had already submitted a response – with Serbia’s red lines – to the so-called European non-paper to those who drafted it.

The red lines are any form of recognition, including informal and Kosovo’s membership in the UN. „These red lines are not just what Serbia won’t accept, but what it won’t even discuss,“ said Vucic on January 13.

While shuttle diplomacy regarding this proposal was taking place „behind the scenes“, the license plate crisis was happening on the ground – which peaked at the end of July and on December 10, when the Serbs set up barricades, that is, at the beginning of November, when the Serbs in the north left Kosovan institutions.

Those moments, when the crisis on the ground would reach its maximum and it would end with temporary agreements, but with different interpretations, were followed by a stronger diplomatic surge of calls to Pristina and Belgrade to turn to this proposal.

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