Kosovo demands EU condemn Serbia’s ‘breach’ of international agreement

Barely a month after it was hailed as a breakthrough moment in the strained relationship between Kosovo and Serbia, the EU-brokered agreement between the two appears to have run into trouble.

Kosovo has accused Serbia of violating the agreement by voting against its Council of Europe membership. According to the deal and its implementation mechanism approved on 18 March, Serbia will not obstruct Kosovo’s entry into international organisations.

Kreshnik Ahmeti, Kosovo’s deputy foreign minister, has called on the EU to condemn Serbia’s actions on Tuesday, since the union is supposed to guarantee compliance with the agreement.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who oversees his country’s role in the dialogue, said the implementation of the agreement would begin as soon as Kosovo met its obligations.

“There is no game around this. You will fulfill [your side of the deal] and once you do that, then we will fulfill our side,” Vučić said in a statement last week.

In order to comply with the agreement, Serbia insists that the Association of Serb Municipalities should be created first. The ASM would be a body dedicated exclusively to serving the ethnic Serb population in Kosovo.

Unclear terms

A key provision of the agreement states “Serbia will not object to Kosovo’s membership in any international organisation”. However, the fact that neither party has formally signed the agreement casts a cloud over its terms and the extent to which it is binding on both sides.

Following months of negotiations regarding its content, and against the backdrop of increased ethnic and political tensions in Kosovo that culminated in barricades, shootings, and other incidents in the Serb majority areas of the country, the EU offered to act as the guarantor of the deal.

US soldiers serving in NATO-led peacekeeping force guard a checkpoint along the Kosovo-Serbia border. 18 December 2023

Both sides made individual verbal commitments to the agreement — but did not sign it — and the agreement was also fed into the EU-negotiating packages for the two countries.

Despite that, it is not surprising that Serbia opposed Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe since Belgrade adamantly refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence and considers it part of its own territory.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also urged for the “rapid implementation” of the “historic, legally binding normalisation agreement” during a meeting with Kosovo officials in New York City.

EU conundrum

The EU is responsible for monitoring both sides’ compliance with the agreement, but it cannot interfere with the work of other organisations.

Council of Europe is a completely independent organisation from EU institutions and functions as a watchdog for human rights. It’s best-known body is the European Court of Human Rights.

Peter Stano, the lead spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that while it acknowledges Serbia’s vote, it cannot force CoE members to vote a certain way.

“We take note of this vote, of course it is for the member states of the Council of Europe to decide how they see fit,” Stano said in Brussels.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic speaks to journalists after a meeting with Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, convened by the EU in Ohrid, North Macedonia. 18 March 2023

This impasse highlights the weakness of the EU’s position in defending the agreement. The EU is free to chastise Kosovo and Serbia respectively, but cannot impose a certain behaviour on a body it does not control.

“We are fully aware of the political sensitivities and complexities related to the implementation process,” Stano continued.

He highlighted that the EU expects “all articles of the agreement are to be implemented swiftly, rapidly, in good faith and independently of each other.”

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