Belgrade-Pristina deal only way to counter ‘influences from the East’, Kosovo PM says

Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo Avdullah Hoti speaks during a Committee on foreign affairs at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 10 September 2020. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

Unless Serbia and Kosovo normalise their relations, the Western Balkans will remain vulnerable to foreign influence coming from the East, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti warned MEPs on the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee Thursday evening (10 September.

Achieving a final deal that will include mutual recognition between the former arch-foes “is the only way for the EU and the US to make sure that this region is closed from the influences coming from the east,” Hoti said.

The prime minister was quick to add that Kosovo is “pro-European but not all countries in the region fully share this view.”

The comments are particularly interesting in the light of Serbian President Aleksander Vučić’s overtures to China earlier this year.

The declaration signed by Kosovo and their Western Balkans counterparts during a summit in May demanded Balkan countries follow EU foreign policy objectives, a veiled reference to concerns about countries aligning themselves too closely to Russia and China.

European lawmakers also grilled the prime minister about the role of Washington in negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina.

Kosovo and Serbia signed a pact to normalise economic relations at the White House last Friday (4 September), hailing the agreement as “historic”.

Serbia, Kosovo sign economic pact at White House

Former Balkan foes Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on a historic pact to normalise economic relations, US President Donald Trump announced at the White House on Friday (4 September), hailing the agreement as “historic”.

Hoti said that the US “involvement should be seen as complementing the EU’s role in this process.”

As part of the pact signed brokered by the Trump administration, Kosovo committed to recognise Israel, while Serbia pledged to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, setting off alarm bells in Brussels.

Aligning itself to the EU’s foreign policy positions is an expectation of candidate countries like Serbia.

“In this context any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret,” EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano told reporters in Brussels earlier this week.

EU warns Serbia over Jerusalem embassy move

The EU voiced “serious concern and regret” on Monday (7 September) over Belgrade’s commitment to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, casting a shadow over the resumption of Serbia-Kosovo talks.

 

Last week’s deal quickly appeared to be fragile when Israeli media reported that Serbia will backpedal on its commitment to move its embassy to Jerusalem if Israel recognises Kosovo.

“The agreement is a list of commitments that we have as a country, and Serbia has as well. I expect now that Serbia will now respect those commitments,” Hoti told MEPs.

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo will reconvene in Brussels later this month, which will be dedicated to the politically sensitive issues of Serb municipalities in Kosovo and the settlement of financial claims such as war damages.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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