The EU will insist on fulfilling the April 2013 agreement, Ivan Vejvoda, a permanent fellow of the Vienna Institute of Human Sciences and director of the “Europe’s Futures project,” said in an interview with KoSSev. According to Vejvoda, the position of Kosovo Serbs is a fundamental issue, and Brussels will insist on fulfilling the agreement on the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities (ASM).
“I don’t see a solution if the Kosovo Serb community does not feel that their safety and security and well-being in the places where they live are guaranteed, otherwise we will have a demographic outflow, which is absolutely not the goal of the solution sought after,“ he stressed.
He added that no Serbian leader would “readily” recognize Kosovo’s independence.
At the same time, according to Vejvoda, the lack of the EU’s role in the so-called Brussels dialogue can be seen in the fact that it did not publicly monitor which side fulfilled which obligations.
“The public in both Pristina and Belgrade needs to see what has been signed and done in a generally binding manner,” said Vejvoda.
After an attempt to organize a meeting between the Serbian and Kosovan delegations in Washington in June failed, practically on the eve of the scheduled meeting in the White House, the European Union took the initiative the following month. In July, after almost 20 months of deadlock, the dialogue between the two sides was re-launched.
When asked what happened in Brussels last month, Vejvoda replied that the EU realized that it had „lost its footing and initiative.“
„It is as if this Grenell initiative, which came very suddenly, prompted Europe to put a finger on its forehead and say – wait, we are still the authorities in this matter, given that the EU is the one that was given the mandate to solve this issue. And suddenly we saw the EU, Brussels and the main European capitals – Berlin and Paris, activating.“
Vejvoda then proceeded to recall the recent meetings which took place as part of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, such as Macron’s initiative to host Aleksandar Vucic and Avdullah Hoti in separate meetings, the virtual meeting of Macron and Merkel with the two leaders, the preparatory meetings in Brussels, and then formal renewal of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina in the presence of Borel and Lajcak, which took place last month.
“It was a serious renewal, a serious commitment of key actors in Europe with an ambiguous ending,“ Vejvoda emphasized.
According to Vejvoda, however, the German and American initiatives are one process, with its ups and downs. He also said that the EU and the US are now “in accord” on the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and that “there should be no differences in the two approaches,” even though Grenell wanted to help Trump in the election campaign. The US has always been interested in having stability in Europe, he added.
“I would say that it has always been a process that had its own flaws. As in everything that is human, there have been ups and downs here, some disagreements about the way it is run, perhaps America’s criticism is that Europe is not leading it dynamically enough, with enough conviction. In my opinion, we have now come to a stage where there is once again an accord between Europe and America,“ he said, citing as an example the recent meeting between Miroslav Lajcak and US Assistant Secretary, Philip Reeker in Brussels, and Matthew Palmer’s statements that Europe has a key role in this process, as symbolic confirmation of this accord.
“The US has always been present, although its presence had not always been visible, for example, at the beginning with High Representative Catherine Ashton. Philip Reeker was always sitting there at the table. Sometimes he was visible in photos and sometimes he wasn’t,” Vejvoda added.
When asked whether individual agreements are being discussed in Brussels, or technical details are being decided before preparations are made for the signing of what is referred to as a „final comprehensive legally binding agreement“, Vejvoda said:
“Simply put, perhaps too simply, it’s all of that at once. And that is where the complexity of this whole issue and the search for its solution lies. First of all, we should say that the EU will insist on fulfilling the April 2013 agreement. It is a binding document, pacta sund servanda. I believe that Europe was lacking in not keeping a kind of public table – who is fulfilling and who is not meeting the conditions. So that the public in both Pristina and Belgrade could see what has been signed and done in a generally binding manner. I think there was some confusion there, so both sides could claim to have fulfilled everything and that the other had fulfilled nothing or very little. I think that Lajcak’s mandate was given by European governments and President von der Leyen and Borell to fulfill what has been agreed.”
The status quo is not a solution, the agreement on the ASM is key, Brussels to insist on it
Vejvode described the previous Brussels meetings as a matter of “exhaustive enumeration” and returning to some of the previously agreed solutions.
“Some solutions need to be attuned and totaled, everything that would be part of a comprehensive agreement, and of course, each side, as in a chess game, sets its own goals and its own interpretation at the opening,” underlined Vejvoda.
He confirmed that the Association of Serb-majority municipalities (ASM) is one of the key agreements, and that this is where Brussels plays a crucial role.
“As far as I know, Brussels will insist on the formation of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities. I’ve heard that the formation of the association will be unquestionably requested,” he said.
The status quo is no solution for the EU, the region, Belgrade, or Pristina, because it foils progress toward what both sides want – EU membership and, of course, the normalization of life, Vejvoda stressed.
He said that the EU reiterated to all Belgrade governments that it would no longer allow the unresolved status of the territorial issue and the conflict to be transferred to the next government – as was the case with Cyprus.
On the other hand, according to Vejvoda, the fact that Belgrade and Pristina had not resolved the Kosovo issue for twenty years is enough proof of the complexity of the Kosovo issue.
The fact that Belgrade and Pristina are talking through mediators the entire time indicates that they will have to put a lot of work on reaching a compromise solution, warned Vejvoda.
“We don’t know precisely what the scope of that compromise is, but I believe that perception is maturing and I say that very carefully. It must be resolved because we can end up in a situation like the one with Kashmir, for example, where the issue between India and Pakistan or Cyprus has not been resolved for 70 years, where the issue between the Turkish and Greek communities has not been resolved for more than 45 years.”
Mutual trust and acceptance by the EU and the UN is the key to compromise
According to Vejvoda, the main aim of compromise is peace and stability in the region, as well as to show that the two societies are worthy of basic civilizational and democratic European values.
“That they want to find their just place, considering that we are surrounded by the EU, and if you will, by NATO.”
Vejvoda, who was an adviser to Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in the early 2000s, argued that even Djindjic understood the importance of the speed with which Serbia would enter the EU. He also warned that the same message has been on repeat for two decades.
When asked how a compromise can be reached in practice, given the differences of opinion in Belgrade and Pristina, Vejvoda replied that the two sides must build trust, and that achieving peace is the main goal.
Each side must have a guarantee of peace and stability in its community. Each side must leave the table not completely satisfied nor completely dissatisfied
It is unrealistic that Serb leaders will readily recognize Kosovo’s independence
While admitting that he does not follow the details of the ongoing talks, Vejvoda said he is positive that they are being held “behind closed doors.” In his words, not talking publicly about all aspects of the solution that is being considered is a good thing:
“In order to reach that moment when the two sides can turn to their communities and say – I think we have achieved the most we could from what was available to us.”
“Everything can happen. For example, Serbia could readily recognize the independence of Kosovo tomorrow morning – which is unrealistic and will never happen. No Serb representative will ever do that. Or Pristina could say – you can have the north of Kosovo, come on, recognize us. But this also won’t happen, and then there are a bunch of different elements of what could come to be,” Vejvoda said.
„When it comes to Belgrade and Serbia, the most important thing is that the position of the Kosovo Serb community is fully protected – in economic, property, cultural sense. Speaking about the SOC – it must have its own special position, which was somewhat indicated in Ahtisaari’s plan“
He emphasized that Belgrade and Pristina cannot reach any kind of agreement without the acceptance of the EU, the US, and most importantly, the UN.
Leadership, that is, conviction and knowledge that difficult decisions must be made for the common good of the people, the country and the region, is required in order to reach a compromise. Although each situation is specific, Vejvoda noted, citing the example of the solution of the Northern Macedonia issue delivered by Tsipras and Zaev, despite the fact that it was a long-standing difficult issue and that the solution faced great opposition in both Macedonia and Greece.
“That is what happened in Macedonia, that is what will happen here as well,” said Vejvoda.
Criticism aside, Vucic has a two-thirds majority in parliament for the Kosovo solution
Vejvoda shared his belief that there is a willingness to compromise on the Serbian side, and that Vucic having the two-thirds majority in the Serbian parliament now opens the possibility of a further process toward reaching an agreement, regardless of criticism of the elections and the composition of the assembly.
The EU will not question the composition of the Serbian parliament
When asked whether the current composition of the Serbian parliament is directly related to the Kosovo issue, i.e. whether the Serbian parliament was composed with forethought due to what Serbia is facing on the issue of Kosovo in the coming months, Vejvoda said:
„Those are big issues now. It seems to me that since the SNS came to power, and given that the issue of Kosovo remained unresolved from the previous government when Boris Tadic was president, and the messages from Europe that they will not have a repeat of the Cyprus situation and that Serbia must solve that – they knew it was on their agenda and they had to solve it. Given the situation with the Constitution of Serbia, the goal was to get a two-thirds majority – either in a coalition or alone. Now they have that two-thirds majority. Aside from the fact that not having opposition in the parliament is not a good thing, along with the question of how these elections were conducted, etc., but when it comes to Kosovo itself, now there are these formal conditions and I think the international community will not ask any questions given that the parliament is what it is and regardless of what our critical views are.“
“The question is whether there is a vision in Pristina now, as well as a government structure that has the ability and legitimacy to move forward on the path toward compromise. It is clear that there will be great opposition and resistance to any agreement on both sides,” he added.
The 13 year-long discussion on two Germanies, proposed by Ischinger, Botsan-Kharchenko and Wisner
„Pristina must understand the reality in the UN Security Council – if Kosovo wants to become a member of the UN, and we know it wants to, Russia and China must vote for it, or abstain. We once again return to the difficult question of the content of the compromise. There are many elements, the basic element is that the proposal of the Pristina side must be acceptable for Belgrade and Serbia, which can be presented in Belgrade and Serbia and, of course, the Kosovo Serbian community as something that is a realistic maximum achievement in that situation.“
When asked if that means that one of the decisions of the „compromise solution“ could be for Kosovo to get a seat in the UN, without formal recognition of Serbia, which Kosovo will not need in that case, Vejvoda stated that it is the so-called proposal of the two Germanies, which has been discussed since 2007. He added that it could be one of the ways to reach a compromise, but that other possibilities are open.
„It has been talked about for 13 years. To put it simply, West Germany allowed or approved East Germany to become a member of the UN without West Germany recognizing the existence of East Germany. That is what Ischinger, Botsan-Kharchenko and Frank Wisner offered.“
The EU wants an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina in a year
Vejvoda argued that the expectations that Belgrade-Pristina agreement will come to be by the end of the year are unrealistic, but that the Europeans have set about a year-long time frame for these talks.
He believes that this dynamic is connected with the important role played by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose mandate ends in the second half of next year.
“She has a very good personal relationship with both President Vucic and the Albanian leaders. Germany is the most important country (within the EU). In a positive sense, we all depend on the German and European economy, our trade is mostly with the EU, close to 70%. In layman’s terms, it is our home.”
It is grave that Serbia did not open a single chapter in June
Speaking about Vucic’s path toward the EU, Vejvoda underlined:
„I think that what the president said in Brussels – that Serbia would like to become a member by 2026 – are important words. But as you know, deeds are even more important than words.“
Vejvoda, however, stressed: „It is grave that Serbia did not open any chapters in June.“
“I think it is a sort of criticism of the EU – that no work has been done on European processes of democracy, strengthening rights, as well as the situation with the media, especially those publicly-owned. Serbia will have to roll up its sleeves to justify the support it receives from the EU.”
He also claimed that Serbia not opening a chapter sends a very clear message that this process of European integration must be approached much more seriously, and along with it – the negotiations on the Kosovo issue.
When asked whether the restriction on freedom and the collapse of democracy in Serbia is „payback“ for a similar process in Kosovo Serb majority areas which took place, by the will and feat of Belgrade, during the first phase of the Brussels process – beyond the public focus and for the sake of a „positive political process“ – and in order to ensure the implementation of the most sensitive parts of the Brussels Agreement – the abolition of Serb institutions, Vejvoda said:
„During Angela Merkel’s famous visit to Belgrade when Boris Tadic was president, she stated that message clearly upon her arrival – parallel institutions in northern Kosovo must be abolished and integrated within Kosovo. That was near the end of his term. The government was changed and then it was up to the new government to do it and it was done. You described it well. I think that suspending the rights, freedoms, associations and speech of people is never a good thing. That is why it is not good for pluralism to decline. That is why Freedom House placed Serbia in a lower position on its democracy ranking, and now we are in that hybrid category.“
These are clear signs, according to Vejvoda, that “much more needs to be done” if Serbia wants to continue its integration process. Warning about one of the essential problems of Serbia – the population decline, he emphasized that this problem is also partially solved by the openness of society and transparent processes.
“That takes leadership that explains to people within which boundaries the processes take place. Acts have consequences. Serbia lost the war against the greatest military power and capitulated in June 1999, and that has consequences. I think that all these governments lived with that mortgage of the catastrophic policy pursued on the issue of Kosovo, and now we have to see how a solution can be reached based on what is left.“
Leaders hold responsibility, no solution without a guarantee for the Kosovo Serb community
Although criticizing the EU’s hitherto engagement on the Kosovo issue, Vejvoda also extended the responsibility toward the leaders of Belgrade and Pristina.
“That is why it is up to us in the region, and above all Belgrade and Pristina, to solve this issue. No one will hand us a solution or impose it upon us because every permanent solution that would bring peace and stability must come from the region and ourselves.”
Finally, Vejvoda emphasized that he does not see a solution if the security of Kosovo Serbs is not guaranteed:
„I do not see a solution if the Kosovo Serb community does not have a guarantee for their safety and security and well-being in the places where they live, otherwise we will have a demographic outflow, which is absolutely not the goal of the solution being sought.“
Speaking about the events from 2003, when the then Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic tried to interest the international community in solving the Kosovo issue (with the current situation being completely different), Vejvoda stated that the international community was looking for a break and it was satisfied with the situation after Slobodan Milosevic was overturned.
Vejvoda underlined that Djindjic was the one who observed the obstacles that lay ahead.
„Djindjic saw the current and future problems and the obstacles that stood in the way of Serbia, as he said, making up for the lost time in the 1990s when the countries of Eastern Europe flocked to Europe,“ he said.
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