EU insists on Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, normalisation

Srbian President Aleksandar Vucic (R) and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani in Belgrade on 31 January. [betaphoto/milosmiskov]

Brussels expects to see a legally binding document regulating relations between Belgrade and Pristina before Serbia joins the EU and insists on Belgrade’s continued dialogue with Kosovo, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said in the Serbian capital this week.

Tajani said it was “important for the Union to see a legally binding agreement reached before admission to the EU and all is clear there”.

He did not use the term “full recognition”, a concept many in Serbia reject outright. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and Belgrade has vowed it would never recognise it.

The Parliament president insisted that the EU wants a resumption of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, stressing that Belgrade is extremely important for the stability of the Balkans.

The EU-mediated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue has been stalled for more than a year. The technical dialogue was due to resume earlier in January but the Serbian team returned from Brussels after the news of the assassination of Oliver Ivanović, a Serb leader of the opposition Freedom, Democracy, Justice civic initiative in Kosovska Mitrovica.

A legally binding agreement with Kosovo, whose independence is not recognised by Belgrade and five EU member states, is the key requisite for Serbia’s EU membership. Serbia is a candidate country and has so far opened 12 of the 35 negotiating chapters.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić told a joint press conference with Tajani on 31 January that “Tajani gave no warnings” but spoke the truth.

“The EU expects from Serbia a legally binding agreement with Pristina, after which it may join the Union,” he said.

Vučić admitted that the issue of Kosovo – a sensitive issue for many Serbs, who see it as the cradle of Serbian statehood – was “the hardest part of the work left” for Serbia to do on the road to the EU.

Asked about the stance of Spain, which is asking for the exclusion of Kosovo from the European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans because it is not a state, Tajani replied that every EU member state had its own strategies and political choices, but that the Union aimed to achieve a harmonised and unified European foreign policy.

The European Commission, asked by EURACTIV, said that the issue of recognition was “a matter for the member states”.

Tajani said he thought the EU’s position was to favour the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue in an effort to reach a legally acceptable solution before Serbia became a full member. Belgrade insiders say it is a compromise solution that would allow Serbia to avoid formal recognition.

Tajani also said in Belgrade that Serbia had much more to do about the rule of law, constitutional reform and press freedom, adding that he was confident that Serbia would do all that was necessary, just as all EU countries had done.

The Parliament president added that 2018 could be a year of turnabout and that he agreed with the statement by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, that Serbia and Montenegro might join the EU in 2025, at the earliest.

During the visit, Tajani talked with civil society representatives and Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. He also spoke at the opening of a business event, EU-SERBIA 2018: Investment, Growth and Employment.

Tajani welcomes Vučić’s decision to visit Zagreb

During the visit, Tajani also said that he greatly appreciated the fact that Vučić had accepted an invitation from Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović to visit Zagreb on 12-13 February, in what is to be the first high-level visit in almost two years.

“I appreciate the Serbian president’s response to the invitation to visit Croatia,” said Tajani.

Relations between Serbia and Croatia, another former Yugoslav republic, which joined the EU in 2013, have been up and down in recent years, with numerous issues blocking progress.

“I believe it is important for us to talk and solve problems between the two states. This is not the time for Serbia and Croatia to compete in who will use more heavy words. It is important that we think about what we should and can do together, and look to the future,” said Vučić.

Vučić also said that he would talk with Croatian officials about what needed to be done to help the Serbs in Croatia, stressing that he would ask the Croatian authorities for help in reviving Serb villages and solving the problems of missing persons and property, dating from the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.