Serbia appears to be moving closer towards resolving relations with its former province of Kosovo – a key issue holding back its EU membership bid. President Aleksandar Vučić, who is trying to get cross-party support for a lasting solution, expects “very difficult talks” on Kosovo this month.
At the same time, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić insisted this week that Kosovo cannot take part in the upcoming EU-Western Balkans summit as an independent country.
Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić said Serbia would take part but would “examine the situation well, so as not to give anyone grounds to claim that it has contributed to the recognition of Kosovo”.
Bulgaria, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has scheduled the summit of EU and Western Balkan leaders in Sofia for 17 May, as part of a new drive to revive the region’s European perspective.
But the participation of Kosovo, Serbia’s former province which declared independence in 2008, remains a problem for some countries.
Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence, along with five EU member states, including Spain, Romania and Cyprus, which, according to media reports, have said they might boycott the Sofia summit if Kosovo is treated as an independent country.
Asked about the Sofia summit, Brnabić said “there is no talk of Kosovo being able to act as a state anywhere because it is not a state. Kosovo cannot act as a state at the summit in Sofia.
“The European Commission is status-neutral. Five important EU members have not and will not recognise Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence so there is no talk of Kosovo being there as a state.”
President Vučić, Serbia’s most powerful politician by far, announced separately that he would hold some of the “most important and difficult” talks on Kosovo from April 10-20.
Declining to divulge any details, Vučić said he did not expect “particularly good news for Serbia” to come from those talks.
He did not elaborate further but said he had fought for Serbia’s cause “with all my heart, strength and energy” but the interests of Western powers seem to be different.
But he also said he had advised Serbian businessmen to attend a business fair in the Kosovo capital Pristina on 18 April, so that we can “achieve a victory through economy and further growth”.
In the past few months, a number of meetings have been held in Serbia as part of an “internal dialogue” on Kosovo, which Vučić has launched to ensure cross-party support on whatever solution is agreed. Vučić is expected to present his view on the matter in April.
He is opposed to the idea of a “frozen conflict” with Kosovo, advocated by some in Serbia. Approving a legally binding agreement with Kosovo, just short of a formal recognition, is reportedly a preferred solution, but even that may not go down well with many Serbs.
Almost 50% of the Serbian population believes that Kosovo is lost. Nevertheless, if they had to choose between the EU and Kosovo, eight out of 10 would choose Kosovo, according to a survey conducted in March by the Institute for European Affairs in association with research firm Ninamedia.
Kosovo’s Gazeta Express website has reported, citing a source from the Kosovo cabinet, that Premier Ramush Haradinaj will attend the summit in Sofia, which should bring together leaders from Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, as well top EU and member state officials.
The Western Balkan region has a population of roughly 18 million but its GDP equals only 1% of the EU’s output and GDP per capita is at about one-third of the EU average.