It is not possible that the Agreement on the path to the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia will not be implemented or that it will be partially implemented. The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, and the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, agreed with the content of the EU proposal. Now, as per their input on implementation, we will draft a proposal that will be discussed in Ohrid on March 18th, the special envoy of the European Union for dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Miroslav Lajcak, said in an exclusive interview for KoSSev.
The six serious crises that occurred in the six months of 2022 were one of the reasons why the EU decided to come up with a proposal on the normalization of relations, now known as the Agreement on the Path to Normalization between Kosovo and Serbia.
the EU envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, told KoSSev that: “The meetings between Kurti and Vucic showed that their vision of normalization are very different which prompted us to come up with a proposal that we believe addresses the most pertinent issues and respects the most sensitive red lines.”
“Crises were one of the reasons why we said we cannot continue on this trajectory because we will end with people being killed,” he warned.
The EU expects that the agreement on the road map will be finalized at the upcoming meeting in Ohrid on March 18th , or at least that Belgrade and Pristina will make significant progress.
It is „one inseparable document“ that consists of two parts – political and technical. Lajcak recalled that Kurti and Vucic already agreed on the political part on February 27th.
According to him, there is also „enormous expectations“ from the international community, the EU and the US from the upcoming meeting in Ohrid.
During his two-day stay in Pristina, Lajcak met twice with the Kosovo Prime Minister, the President, the leaders of the opposition, as well as Srpska Lista. On Monday, he is set to move on to Belgrade.
This is his 11th visit to Pristina since he first presented the draft agreement to the Kosovo prime minister and the Serbian president in early September. Lajcak revealed that in addition to hours of talks, he had to deal with „either the crisis on the ground or normalization.“
Unfortunately, there was more crisis than there was normalization
„I believe that we are at a very important moment in our efforts and it’s important that they hear from me how we see the situation and it’s important for me to hear from them,” he said.
What type of key findings for the past two days in Pristina and with what thoughts and messages you’re heading back to Brussels? What messages are you bringing to Belgrade?
Let me start by reminding that we had a meeting between PM Kurti and President Vucic on the 27th of February in Brussels. It was a good meeting because we had a very open and honest discussion so it was quite positive. They did not agree on many issues, but it was very respectful.
A very important outcome of this meeting was the agreement that there was no need to further discuss the agreement, that both leaders accept the text and we can focus on the implementation. For this purpose, the EU drafted a proposal – the Implementation Annex. I asked both leaders at the end of our meeting to prepare their comments on our proposal. Because the text without clarity regarding the implementation, on steps, on sequence, on timelines, is more of a political declaration than a binding agreement. So, the main purpose of my visit to Pristina yesterday and today was exactly to discuss the annex with PM Kurti and to hear his input on our proposal.
I’ll rephrase my question. Did your meetings with Prime Minister Kurti meet your expectations in preparation for Ohrid on the 18th?
Yes, because I’ve come here to get his input and I did get his input. That is important. He was prepared for our meeting. And this is exactly what brings me to Belgrade on Monday and Tuesday, to meet with President Vucic and to get his input. And on the basis of these two inputs we will prepare a proposal that should serve as a basis for our discussion on the 18th in Ohrid.
When you say inputs – do we as part of the public understand correctly that both Kurti and Vucic are obliged to provide you with their ideas for Implementation annex? Did Kurti do so and will Vucic do the same?
This agreement consists of two parts, but they constitute one inseparable document. The first part is political which we said that the text, we believe, is the best proposal and we expect the two leaders to say yes to which happened on the 27th. The second part is technical, in other words, how to implement it. Here we said we are ready and open to hearing their comments, suggestions because obviously it is a very important document, and we fully respect that parties want to have guarantees that if they deliver, they will also get what they were promised. That is why this discussion is participatory. It’s important for us to get their input. And yes, I did get input from PM Kurti, his ideas on how the document can be implemented.
About the roadmap?
About the roadmap – yes. I expect the same from President Vucic, we will try to accommodate this so that we have a good basis for the discussion in Ohrid – based on their input.
What happened in Brussels last week – as you said this is one agreement. What did Mr. Kurti agree to and what did Mr. Vucic agree to? Did they agree to the content of what we call now the Basic Agreement?
As I’ve said they’ve both agreed that there was no need to discuss the text.
That there is no need to discuss the text. The text is as it is and that’s why we published the text.
So, they agreed with the Basic agreement?
They agreed with the Basic agreement. But, of course, the implementation is no less important because implementation will turn this agreement into reality.
Article 7 of the Basic Agreement mentions ‘self-management’. What does it mean? It is a very specific word and was it deliberately chosen, why not, for instance, ‘self-government’?
Article 7 says one thing which is very important – that there can be no agreement on normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia without providing constitutional and institutional protection of the Serbian community in Kosovo. This is what Article 7 is about. The details need to be agreed among the parties within the dialogue on the basis of the 2013 and 2015 agreements, taking into account the Constitutional Court opinion and also getting inspiration from existing and well-functioning European models.
Do you see any limitation with the word ‘self-management’ in comparison to ‘self-government’?
What is important here is that what was agreed in the framework of the dialogue will be implemented. That’s point number 1 and point number 2 – that we will get an implementable model and a model which meets the criteria of a bigger European model. We see as a very important role of the facilitator to make sure that the agreements we are delivering as a part of the dialogue are agreements that are bringing two parties closer to the EU by being built on European norms and values.
When you say European model, are those rumors correct that there is a plethora of proposals on the table regarding models for the Association? And do you think there are a variety of options for selecting the best model of Association? If it is so – can you discuss some of the models that you are currently looking into?
I have said several times publicly that there are 15 different European models on my desk that can serve as an inspiration. For those that are afraid that the models will lead to dysfunctionality, none of these models have created dysfunctionality, on the contrary, they’ve led to greater transparency, greater trust between the communities. That’s why we believe that we should take inspiration from European models rather than try to create something that has never been tested anywhere else and we don’t know how it’ll work.
The solution also should give guarantees that there is nothing to be afraid of. On the contrary, the solution should improve the communication and cooperation among the Serb-majority municipalities, improve the communication between the Serb community and the government in Pristina, and set clear rules for the communication and cooperation between the Serbian community in Kosovo and the government in Serbia.
When we are talking about the Association, are we talking about an obligation that is part of the Brussels Agreement since 2013 and the technical agreement of 2015, or are we talking about a new structure or a new idea?
Well, the commitments that were accepted in the agreements in 2013 and 2015 are here. And they, of course, must be respected, Pacta sun servanda is one of the key principles. And we also always stress in our statements and documents that all past agreements must be implemented.
The SOC is specifically mentioned in the Basic Agreement. What does that mean? Is there any chance or will it get extraterritorial status? What does it specifically mean?
The particular model or the particular solution needs to be discussed and agreed between the two parties – between Serbia and Kosovo. So, I don’t want to prejudge the discussion, we did not have that discussion yet. Therefore, we expect the parties to come with their proposals. It’s important and that’s why it’s part of the agreement – that the cultural and religious heritage is protected. And of course, the status of the Orthodox Church is clearly defined here. Again, there’s clarity and there is no fear about the future.
Are there any current talks about the return of Kosovo Serbs to institutions they left several months ago? If there are talks on that, are they part of the deal of this Basic Agreement?
The talks are ongoing. I’ve raised this issue in all my meetings with all of my interlocutors here in Pristina. I will also do so when I talk to President Vucic. Our position is that Kosovo should enable and Serbia should encourage the return of Kosovo Serbs to Kosovo institutions. This will get us back into the framework of the agreement of 2013. This is in the interest of everyone. This is a win-win solution. We are also addressing this issue as part of the dialogue about the agreement. So it was also mentioned in our meeting on 27th of February. But, at this point, I believe that in the interest of finding a solution, it is better not to speak publicly about what was said. I can assure you that this is on our agenda, and we are raising this issue. And we believe that it is in everyone’s interest.
Will it be fixed as a separate deal package or part of the deal you are talking about?
It’s not mentioned in the document, but when we say that everything that was agreed must be implemented, this is part of the past agreement which is not being implemented.
What about the expected elections in four northern municipalities? Do you think they will be held on 23rd of April or is there a possibility that they will be postponed? Are there specific talks or deals regarding that because we’ve seen that the deadline for the political subjects to apply has been extended from the 18th to the 22nd – which is just a day before the Council of Europe is set to meet? Do you expect any positive feedback from Belgrade and Kosovo Serbian side?
Well, the date of the elections is the prerogative of the President of Kosovo and I respect the constitutional role of the president on this issue. What is important is that elections will be held in an atmosphere where all citizens can freely exercise their democratic right to elect. The elections will also reflect the preferences of the citizens. Therefore, we need also a political solution. In this context, the decision of the CEC to postpone the deadline for presenting lists is a constructive decision because it gives us more space and allows for the meeting in Ohrid on the 18th not to be held under the pressure of this deadline but hopefully will help us to a creative atmosphere that would be conducive to finding a political solution.
Did you receive any positive feedback from the Serbian side on the deadline being extended? Whether they are at least considering the possibility of participating in the elections, even though we heard a few days ago that Srpska Lista said they won’t be participating?
Again, I’m in the middle of my meetings and I’m still awaiting my trip to Belgrade, and it would be premature to give an answer to these questions. I just want to say that this is not a normal situation and it is not in the interest of the Serbian community or the Albanian majority. Therefore, I believe that we should all try to work together to restore the situation before November when the Serbs left Kosovo institutions which will be fully in line with the agreement.
What are your expectations from March 18th in Ohrid? Is this a decisive meeting or just one in a line?
I don’t like big or heavy words. Of course, our expectation is to finalize this process, to agree, or at least make significant progress. Our expectations are that both parties will be committed to this and will act in good faith and constructively. This is very important and this is not only our expectation but also an enormous expectation of the international community, the EU and the US, who are paying a high level of attention to this process. They have made it very clear that they consider this process very important and the key interlocutors – Kurti and Vucic – are aware of this fact. I expect open, certainly not easy, but constructive discussion.
After your visit to Pristina, which expectation are you closer to meeting – to reach a deal on the roadmap in Ohrid, even if it’s without a signature but to agree that there are no further discussions needed on the roadmap or that you will make significant progress? A or B?
Well, I don’t think we are asking ourselves this question. We are coming to Ohrid with the aim to finalize this process and let’s hope we get there. It’s important that parties engage in a good faith. What is part of my task is to do everything for the good preparation for this meeting. That’s why getting input from the Kosovo side and then the Serbian side is very important.
In case there is no deal on the roadmap on March 18th, and there is significant progress, what does it mean in terms of timeframe, how many more meetings will be needed for say, Kurti and Vucic to agree on the content of the roadmap?
I believe that this is a very hypothetical question, I want to see a constructive discussion that will significantly push this process forward, ideally – to the acceptance of the text of the agreement. If you ask me, as a facilitator, if we don’t achieve 100%, but a significant part of the roadmap, that would still be a good thing because it would mean that we would meet again soon to finalize it. No one wants to stall this process. We want to see the parties showing commitment, and good faith in the negotiations and that they want to bring this process to a successful end, which would be good for both parties.
Could it happen that this agreement becomes just another tick in the box, which was not implemented or was only partially implemented? Is that possible?
The agreement is not the end of the story, but a start of a new implementation phase
No, that is not possible. First of all, the whole purpose of the discussion on the implementation of the roadmap is to clearly highlight how this agreement will be implemented, and secondly, it is part of the mechanism of the EU-led committee that will monitor and report on the implementation. This agreement is not the end of the story, but the beginning of a new phase called implementation.
I won’t ask you which side you had the most difficult negotiations with because you won’t answer me. Since you became a facilitator in this process, what has been the biggest difficulty for you?
I am aware that the issues I am asked to facilitate on are issues that go deep into identity and to a certain extent – existence. It is very much a national issue, but also an issue of the future, of the European issues, a very sensitive issue. The second element I have to mention is that the level of trust between the parties is low, as a consequence of many reasons which we know.
Therefore, it is important to create in the dialogue an atmosphere that is constructive, focused on results. For every facilitator, the most important thing is to be trusted, to be seen as impartial, to be seen as a constructive factor rather than part of the problem. This is really important because every move you make, every word you say is scrutinized from every possible angle. Sometimes, deliberately misinterpreted. It is important that you have the trust of the parties. This is the most important thing.
You mentioned trust several times. I’m sure you’re aware that there is almost a complete lack of trust between the northern community and central institutions. One of the key elements that contributed to the deepening of this miscommunication gap is certainly this lack of trust, related to the police bases built in the north without notifying the local population. How did they pop up there? According to your knowledge, were they built with the consent and knowledge of the international community?
Unfortunately, I have to agree with you that the level of trust between the Kosovo Serb community and the government in Pristina is very low. We are trying to help increase this trust, mutually. What is really important is that everything that is happening is clearly embodied in a legal framework, has a solid legal basis, and that it is done in a participatory, inclusive way.
Serbs should not be caught by surprise but informed – that is my message to Pristina
So, that is my message to my counterparts here in Pristina, that whenever they make a decision that affects the lives of Kosovo Serbs, that it is important that they feel included, that they are consulted and informed, that they are not caught by surprise. And the same goes for the international community.
But this process is ongoing. You probably heard about the expropriation of land, the decision was announced by the government without a public hearing. I can provide you with a list of arguments…
…You don’t have to, I have the list because we are monitoring the situation to the smallest details. And, yes, we had a discussion during my visit this time about the expropriation, about some other issues that involve the Kosovo Serb community and which would have required a great level of trust-building and consultations. My message has been – make sure every step is based on the existing legislation, that your laws are respected, and that the affected population feels as part of this process and not only exposed to the result of the process.
What do you think of the position of Kosovo Serbs in the south and north? Do you see any specific difficulties?
The situation is complex, and it is not easy. We spoke about trust, therefore, I believe that we need to have clear institutional and legal rules and guarantees which would allow this and other communities to feel secure and safe. Again, European models are good guidance on how to address these issues, but also all the past agreements negotiated in good faith need to be implemented. I believe this would increase trust and security.
Do you think that Kosovo Serbs have perspectives to stay in the north? Currently, many families are leaving or planning to leave. What would be your message to them?
EU is built on the principles of multiethnic democracies. And Kosovo is a multiethnic country, therefore, we expect the European standards in the protection of minority communities to be respected. It would be very bad if Serbs in Kosovo do not see their future here. For those who want to stay, they must have all opportunities for life, education, promoting or developing their interests and feeling protected and safe. This is extremely important because that is the European solution.
How did the crisis in the north occur? To remind you of a little detail, last year, on the 29th of June, just before you were heading to Belgrade, you said that we can expect the Kosovo government to soon announce its decision on the license plates, and this was the starting point of the new crisis after the crisis we had in the fall of 2021. We have been seeing crises in the north for the past two years.
I think I know how it started, but I don’t think it will help us to dwell on the past. The fact is that the second half of the last year was lost for normalization. We, unfortunately, had to deal with crisis management. We had six serious crises in six months of 2022. This was one of the reasons why we said we cannot continue on this trajectory because we will end with people being killed. This is also one of the reasons why we came up with the proposal on the normalization of relations, and which is a forward-looking trajectory. We are dealing with the issues for the future, rather than the past.
The Franco-German proposal was the consequence of the crisis in the north? Was it a response of the EU to this crisis or something else?
We have been discussing with our partners in the EU, particularly in Berlin and Paris, about the way forward. The meetings between Kurti and Vucic showed that their vision of normalization is very different which prompted us to come up with a proposal that we believe addresses the most pertinent issues and respects the most sensitive red lines. I presented this proposal in September, after the meeting between the two leaders in August.
Why didn’t we conduct this interview in Serbian? Your Serbian is very fluent and our audience is primarily Serbian-speaking audience.
Don’t ask me. I was told that we are conducting this interview in English. I wouldn’t have a problem doing the interview in Serbian.
Did you hear about the press releases from the journalist association after your visit here? Are you familiar with their criticism?
Not with that particular one.
They are asking for bigger communication with the media during your visit. They claim they are not properly informed about the agenda, arrival, etc.
I am dealing with an extremely sensitive process. I have brought an unprecedented level of transparency to this process when I compare how I act and how this process was conducted in the past. I am an open and transparent person. I respect the work of journalists, I never ignore them. I am aware that they sometimes wait for hours to get a statement from me. I’m trying to find the right balance between the transparency of the process and the confidentiality of talks. We’re in a very sensitive moment. The experience also shows that not rarely the words are not properly understood or misinterpreted. I learned in this job that sometimes saying less is better for the result of the process I’m here to facilitate. I respect the work of journalists; my wife is a journalist so I know firsthand how important it is. Not everything can be said, at least in the middle of the process, the fact that I’m having this interview, this is my second interview in my two days here, here shows that I understand how important it is. I hope you understand how sensitive my work is. I must weigh my words twice before I say them.
Thank you for talking to KoSSev.
Interview conducted by Tatjana Lazarevic
Preuzimanje i objavljivanje tekstova sa portala KoSSev nije dozvoljeno bez navođenja izvora. Hvala na poštovanju etike novinarske profesije.