France, Germany seek to unfreeze stalled Kosovo-Serbia talks

Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci, Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Zagreb in May 2020. [EPA-EFE/ARIS OIKONOMOU]

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will host together with the EU a video summit on Friday (10 July) between Serbia and Kosovo aimed at easing tensions between the Balkan neighbours.

A video summit on Friday hosted by Macron and Merkel and joined by the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell will seek to address one of Europe’s most intractable territorial disputes, with Belgrade refusing to recognise Kosovo’s independence.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will hold separate talks with Macron in France on Tuesday and Thursday respectively, the French side announced.

While tensions between Pristina and Belgrade remain high, both Kosovo and Serbia have been facing mounting pressure from the West to reopen negotiations after a series of diplomatic tit-for-tats.

The new push for the talks made by Macron’s office comes after Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci was charged last month with war crimes by prosecutors in The Hague.

The indictment led to the postponement of a White House summit between Serbia and Kosovo due to be held at the end of June, which had raised eyebrows in Brussels as European officials have spent years in efforts to resolve the dispute.

Additionally, Hoti and Vucic will relaunch talks in Brussels on Sunday (12 July), EU spokesman Peter Stano told reporters in Brussels.

The meeting, to be hosted by Borrell and facilitated by the EU Special Representative for the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, will be the first in the framework of the dialogue since November 2018.

Belgrade withdrew from the dialogue in November 2018, after Kosovo’s government decided to increase the import tax on all goods produced in Serbia and Bosnia to 100% from 10% set earlier that month, saying the move was needed to protect Kosovo’s sovereignty and interests.

In June, Kosovo’s new government of prime minister Avdullah Hoti removed all barriers to trade with Serbia, paving the way for a resumption of negotiations with Belgrade.

“It is no coincidence that we are continuing the virtual dialogue on Sunday (in Brussels),” Stano said. “These are complementary events.”

It “will resume the discussions and the work on reaching a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, dealing with all outstanding issues,” Stano told reporters.

The EU-facilitated negotiations started in March 2011 and have produced some 30 agreements, but most of them have not been observed. At the same time, a handful of EU member states do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Resolving the lingering conflict is a prerequisite for either side to make progress on their EU accession dreams.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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