Belgrade, Pristina open talks on Northern Kosovo
A recent round of talks between the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo demonstrated that resolving the delicate issue of the Serbian institutions in northern Kosovo will take time. EurActiv Serbia reports.
Officials in Brussels voiced satisfaction with the progress made in last week’s fifth round of talks between Ivica Dačić of Serbia and Hashim Thaci of Kosovo, through there were no concrete results. The next round of discussions is scheduled for 4 March.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said she was happy with the “significant progress” achieved in talks held last week.
“They have returned to their capitals for consultations and will come back to Brussels on March 4 for a further meeting. The prime ministers are pleased with the significant progress they have made, as am I," she said in a statement.
European Commission sources said the talks between Dačić, Thaci and Ashton focussed on the north of Kosovo and the formation of new institutions to replace the Serbian Interior Ministry and judiciary.
Under a solution proposed by Belgrade, the new institutions in Kosovo would fit into the governing system in Pristina, but would be part of a union of Serb municipalities in Kosovo and would also remain linked to Belgrade.
The result of the negotiations in Brussels, as the Serbian prime minister put it, is that a serious discussion was held on the forming of a union of Serb municipalities.
Dačić said the union of Serb municipalities would not work against the Pristina government, and it should have the option of electing its own representatives and protecting Serb interests in Kosovo.
The union’s authority would cover education, healthcare, the judiciary and other areas of interest to the Serbs in Kosovo, the prime minister added.
Thaci wants end to parallel structures
Thaci said that “everyone is aware” that Serbia’s parallel structures in Kosovo should be disbanded as soon as possible.
“The security structures will be dismantled and other possibilities will be found regarding the adjustment or transformation of the education system, health care and civil servants,” Thaci said after the meeting in Brussels.
Serbian analysts agree that the part of the Belgrade-Pristina talks on Serbian institutions is the most difficult one and do not expect that an agreement will be reached quickly.
Some experts also think Belgrade is “on a tight schedule” in the negotiations, whereas Pristina is in less of a hurry.
Analyst Predrag Simić stressed that it would be too much to expect an agreement in the first meeting of Belgrade and Pristina representatives on Serbian institutions in Kosovo.
“Pristina sees it as the creation of an entity resembling Republika Srpska and wants to avoid it. The fear of ‘Daytonisation’ in Kosovo is excessive, but that is not unusual,” said Simić, referring to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Key issue for the EU
Ahead of the fifth round of negotiations, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso met with Thaci on 19 February and said that the results of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and the upcoming round in particular were extremely important for Kosovo and Serbia’s relations with the EU.
The need for results in the dialogue was also stressed by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who had met with Serbian officials headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić in Brussels. Westerwelle said Germany wanted the dialog to lead to tangible results before Serbia can get a date for the start of EU accession talks.
Dačić said in Brussels that getting a date for negotiations with the EU would be a major incentive for reaching an agreement on Kosovo.
“If we are not given a date, that could kill the dialogue because it would give the Serbs the impression that we will simply never get anything from the EU and therefore should not be involved in this dialog at all,” he Dačić.
The EU-mediated dialog between Belgrade and Pristina began in March 2011, with the meetings taking place in Brussels. Initially, lower-level meetings were held.
After the new Serbian government was formed in July 2012, the dialogue was raised to a higher level and the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo, Ivica Dačić and Hashim Thaci, met for the first time in October. At a meeting in December, Dačić and Thaci agreed to exchange liaison officers.
Since the start of the dialogue in March 2011, agreements have been reached on several issues – the free flow of people and goods, customs stamps, the acknowledgment of diplomas, integrated border management in Northern Kosovo, and the representation of Kosovo at regional conferences.
The EU is asking Serbia and Kosovo to enhance their relations – to implement the agreements made so far and reach new ones, in order to progress in European integration.