Serbia and its former province of Kosovo took steps toward overcoming decades of enmity on Tuesday (25 August), signing energy and telecoms agreements, bringing Belgrade closer to joining the European Union.
After European Union-mediated talks in Brussels, Serbs in northern Kosovo will enjoy greater rights and be able to manage some issues such as the local economy and education, as well as having access to funding from Belgrade.
“Today’s outcome represents landmark achievements in the normalisation process,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement, referring to the two sides that fought a war in the 1990s and which both aspire to EU membership.
Kosovo will, for example, have its own telephone country code, essentially a recognition by Serbia of the sovereignty of majority-Albanian Kosovo, which has declared independence.
Until now, due to Serbia’s obstructions, Kosovo was using the telephone codes of Monaco and Slovenia for mobile phones.
Serbia’s hopes of opening the first chapter in EU accession talks hinge on implementation of an EU-brokered deal in 2013 to regulate relations with Kosovo.
Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after NATO intervened with air strikes to drive out Serbian forces from Kosovo and halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians during a two-year counter-insurgency war.
The US State Department praised both governments for their progress and “moving their countries closer to normalization of relations and along their respective EU paths”.
Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, nine years after the end of a 1998-1999 war between Belgrade's security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas. In the following years, Kosovo was an international protectorate patrolled by NATO peacekeepers.
After Kosovo declared independence in February 2008, the two million-strong republic, 90% of whose population are ethnic Albanians, established many of the trappings of statehood, including a new constitution, army, national anthem, flag, passports, identity cards and an intelligence agency.
However, the Serbian-populated northern part of Kosovo (the area of Mitrovica) remains largely outside the control of Pristina.
Most EU countries, except Spain, Greece, Romania, Cyprus and Slovakia, have recognised the independence of Kosovo. Of all UN members, 110 have recognised Kosovo so far.
In December 2008, the EU deployed a rule of law mission, dubbed EULEX Kosovo, with the intention of taking over post-crisis management in the territory. The aim of the operation is to assist and support the Kosovo authorities with the rule of law, specifically regarding the police, the judiciary and customs.
The EULEX mission is the largest EU civilian mission ever launched. The 3,000-member operation has the power to take on cases that the local judiciary and police are unable to handle.