Talks between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on improving ties failed to make a breakthrough after Pristina rejected an EU compromise proposal, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said.
“We tried hard but, unfortunately, it was not possible to bridge the differences today,” said the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell on Thursday.
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Borrell blamed Kosovo for a failure to implement a deal with Serbia on normalising relations between the two former wartime foes, saying that Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti “was not ready to move forward”.
Brussels has been trying for years to resolve the long-running dispute between Balkan neighbours that has soured relations since their war more than two decades ago.
The EU believed it had broken the logjam by hammering out a plan to normalise ties in March, but since then there has been minimal progress.
Kosovo insists it wants Serbia to make the first move by taking steps towards officially recognising its independence.
Belgrade wants progress first on a deal to create an association of 10 Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo.
Borrell said he had proposed launching the two processes in “parallel” in a bid to make headway.
But Kurti rejected this proposal, he said, even though it was accepted by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Vucic said the talks had “ended unsuccessfully” after his counterpart’s refusal.
Kurti blamed the Serbian side for the failure, insisting there was “full readiness” from the Kosovan side to implement the March plan.
Series of failure
The last round of the dialogue in June ended without producing any tangible results.
Vucic and Kurti refused to meet face to face, and Borrell, who held talks separately with the two men, conceded that they have “different interpretations of the causes and also the facts, consequences and solutions”.
Borrell said there had also been no progress on efforts to defuse the dispute on elections in northern Kosovo that sparked unrest in May. Serbs clashed with security forces, including NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers working there, injuring 93 soldiers, after ethnic Albanian mayors were installed following the contentious polls.
Borrell warned that steps taken by Kosovo to de-escalate the tensions by holding new elections “fell very short” of international requests. He insisted the mayors should resign.
The stalemate was hurting both Serbia and Kosovo’s desire to one day join the 27-nation bloc, he warned.
“At the end of the day, those who suffer more for the inability of their leaders to stay true to their words are the citizens,” he added.
“This is particularly worrying at a time when the European Union is so clearly moving forward on enlargement.”
Kosovo is a mainly ethnic Albanian-populated territory that was formerly a province of Serbia. It declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade has refused to recognise the move. The two have been at odds for decades, their 1998-99 war killing more than 10,000 people, mostly Kosovo Albanians.
Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo’s statehood and still considers it part of Serbia, even though it does not have formal control there.
Kosovo’s independence has been recognised by about 100 countries, including the US.
However, Russia, China and five EU nations have sided with Serbia. The deadlock has kept tensions simmering and prevented complete stabilisation of the Balkan region after the bloody wars in the 1990s.
There are widespread fears in the West that Moscow could use Belgrade to reignite ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, which experienced a series of bloody conflicts in the 1990s during the break-up of Yugoslavia, to draw world attention away from the war.
But at the same time, Kurti – a longtime Kosovo independence activist who spent time in prisons in Serbia and Kosovo – has frustrated the Europeans and proven difficult for negotiators to work with since he became prime minister in 2021.