European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen visited Belgrade and Pristina with promises of financial support for their economies but warned Serbia and Kosovo that they must take concrete steps to normalise relations.
Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday in Belgrade that the EU expects Serbia and Kosovo to respect the agreements they made earlier this year in Ohrid, Macedonia to normalise their relations.
Von der Leyen met President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade a day after she asked Serbia to “deliver on de facto recognition of Kosovo”.
Asked to clarify her comments about de facto recognition, von der Leyen said on Tuesday “it is about the implementation of the Ohrid agreement”.
The agreement includes the establishment of an Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities in Kosovo that would protect Serbs’ interests, but also insists that Serbia “not object to Kosovo’s membership in any international organisation”. However, Vucic refused to sign the agreement and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti is wary about setting up the Association.
“It is important that Serbia should endorse the statute of the Association [of Serb-Majority Municipalities in Kosovo]. Kosovo has to implement this statute and in addition, it is essential that Serbia begins the implementation of the existing agreements and does not lose time on this,” von der Leyen urged.
“This Ohrid agreement foresees various steps which include, for example, the recognition of documents and institutions by Serbia. And this, on the other hand goes along with the establishment of the Association of Serb-Majority municipalities,” she said.
Vucic said that Serbia’s position on Kosovo recognition has not changed.
The EU this month has stepped up pressure on Belgrade and Pristina to push forward with the normalisation process that would open up their paths to membership of the European bloc.
The leaders of the three biggest EU states, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, met Vucic and Kurti on October 26 to try to get them to commit to implementing the Ohrid agreement.
“In order to make quick progress in the implementation, we call on Kosovo to launch the procedure to establish the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities in Kosovo as prescribed in the draft statute, and on Serbia to deliver on de-facto recognition,” they said in a joint statement the following day.
While Vucic stonewalled the call for Serbia to give Kosovo de-facto recognition, the suggestion was welcomed in Pristina.
Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani said on Monday that the initial agreement on normalisation made in 2013 in Brussels should be implemented in full.
“If it gets implemented in its entirety, it leads to de-facto recognition and this paves the way for more peace, more long-term stability and clearly directs us to de jure recognition,” Osmani told media.
She added that the agreement should be implemented as soon as possible because “momentum is very important” – a reference to an EU summit scheduled for December in which the union is expected to present a so-called ‘growth plan’ worth six billion euros for the Western Balkans.
However, continuing tensions and recriminations could scupper hopes for progress towards normalisation.
After their October 26 meetings with the French, German and Italian leaders, Kurti blamed Vucic for failing to sign the Ohrid agreement to normalise relations, while Vucic claimed that “there was no question of signing or not signing something”.
He said the latest European proposal for the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, which was presented to him on October 21 in Belgrade, is a “good basis” for further work, but Serbia will not accept UN membership for Kosovo or any formulation that refers to Kosovo’s “territorial integrity”.
Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani (right) with Ursula von der Leyen in Pristina on Tuesday. Photo: EPA-EFE/ENES SAHITI
Von der Leyen touts EU enlargement
Before Belgrade, von der Leyen also visited Podgorica on Tuesday, arriving as the country got a new prime minister and government. She said that EU enlargement is at the top of the European Commission’s priorities, calling on the new Montenegrin government to speed up reforms.
“If you meet the conditions, we will not be bound by the date, there is no calendar for the accession process, but the important thing is the implementation of reforms and progress towards the EU in terms of fulfilling all the criteria that countries must fulfil,” von der Leyen told a press conference in Podgorica.
Montenegrin President Jakov Milatovic expressed hope that the small Adriatic country could be a EU member by the end of 2030.
Ursula von der Leyen kicked off her tour to the region with a visit to North Macedonia on Monday, where the focus was on a forthcoming bid to change the constitution in order to end the Bulgarian blockade on Skopje’s EU accession.
After talks with North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski, von der Leyen said she hopes that all political parties will support the change for the sake of “the future of your country”.
On Wednesday, von der Leyen will visit Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Source : Balkan Insight