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.
President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti met in Brussels for a second round of EU-brokered face-to-face talks to resolve disputes two decades after their war.
The meeting followed a high-profile summit at the White House where Vucic and Hoti signed statements agreeing measures to improve economic relations – and in Serbia’s case pledging to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The EU is still committed to the “two state solution” – under which Jerusalem would be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state – and its own diplomatic mission is in Tel Aviv.
The bloc expects prospective members such as Serbia to align with its foreign policy positions.
“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.
Breaking with longstanding diplomatic practice, President Donald Trump’s administration in December 2017 recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy to the city.
Sharren Haskel, a member of the Israeli parliamentary foreign affairs committee said the “EU attempts at educating Serbia and Kosovo are shocking,” and accused the bloc “of repeatedly criticising the state of Israel and calling into question” its very existence.
“I ask other countries … to move their embassies to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” she said.
In one of Europe’s most intractable disputes, Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo’s declaration of independence since the province broke away in a 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.
Both Kosovo and Serbia are facing mounting pressure from the West to resolve the impasse, seen as crucial to either side joining the EU.
More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province.
One key question is diplomatic recognition for Kosovo — five of the EU’s 27 countries do not acknowledge its independence.
The EU’s special representative for the dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, hailed “full progress” in Monday’s talks on economic cooperation and the issue of people left missing or displaced by the conflict.
“Our negotiations today were intense as usual and not always easy, but what prevailed was the will of both sides to advance the discussions despite the painful and complex issues at hand,” Lajcak said.
Hoti also said advances had been made in Monday’s talks.
“I am pleased to say that progress has been made in drafting the final agreement between the two countries for the full normalisation of relations,” he told reporters.
A decade of talks
Talks will continue next week at expert level, Lajcak said, with the two leaders due to meet again later in September.
The two sides have been in EU-led talks for a decade but little progress has been made.
A raft of agreements in 2013 have yet to be fully implemented and a previous round of negotiations broke down in 2018 after a series of diplomatic tit-for-tats.
Vucic and Hoti resumed face-to-face talks in Brussels in July but the effort got off to a frosty start, with the Serbian leader accusing Pristina of trying to blackmail Belgrade.
Monday’s talks also broached the question of the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo and their future status in the country – one of the thorniest disputes between the two sides.
Washington touted the agreements signed by Vucic and Hoti at the White House on Friday as a major breakthrough, but on Monday the two leaders issued a more cautious joint statement before they met.