Belgrade faces difficult decision over Kosovo telecoms deal

Belgrade faces difficult decision over Kosovo telecoms deal
By Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade October 6, 2016

European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic has tried to defuse tensions over an EU-facilitated telecoms deal between Belgrade and Pristina, saying on October 6 that the dialogue is “not about ultimatums” but about implementation of agreements already reached. However, Serbian officials have continued to voice concerns about the need to hand over telecoms infrastructure in Kosovo, which formerly belonged to Telekom Srbija, to Pristina. 

An action plan for telecoms was one of the agreements on four key issues reached between Belgrade and Pristina in August 2015, as part of the normalisation process between the two countries. Normalisation of relations is a pre-condition for Serbia’s progress towards EU accession. 

“It is about implementation of the 2013 telecommunications agreement, followed by the 2015 Action Plan, whose implementation is still underway,” Kocijancic told Tanjug's Brussels correspondent when asked to confirm if Belgrade had until October 9 to accept or reject a deal on telecoms in the dialogue with Pristina.

Specifically, this is about an existing agreement on conditions under which Kosovo will be given an international dialling code, while a Serbian telecoms operator in Kosovo will get a full landline telephony licence and a temporary licence for existing mobile telephony, she said.

"What matters is the implementation of agreements in the dialogue, and work on that is now underway," Kocijancic added. 

Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic warned on October 6 that the Telekom Srbija property issue could set a precedent for the handover of other contested property, allowing Kosovo to claim the giant Trepca mining and metallurgical complex and Gazivode Lake.

Earlier, Vucic had implied that Serbia was under pressure to carry out its commitments from the August 2015 deal. “It is very difficult to make a positive decision on this, but it is difficult to adopt a negative decision too, because you know what kind of political consequences you are facing. We will, however, make the best decision in the interest of Serbia,” Vucic said on October 5. 

The following day, he stressed that talks were not over yet. “We will have much more contact and we will be talking with everyone and we will try to see if we can do something to fix the thing,” he said. Tanjug reported on October 6. He also underlined that Serbia is on its EU path.

Normalisation of Belgrade-Pristina relations is an integral part of Serbia’s EU negotiation process, which is unique because Serbia is the only country candidate whose integration is conditioned by a non-EU member. Relations between the two countries are covered by negotiation Chapter 35, one of the first two chapters opened by Serbia.

The director of the Serbian government Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Marko Djuric, also issued a warning on the issue on October 5, claiming Belgrade was faced with a “difficult and serious ultimatum”. 

“We are asked to give up our property when it comes to telecommunications, and to waive the assets of Telekom Srbija, and to agree that all of our assets in Kosovo are no longer ours, but of the institutions of the self-proclaimed state in Pristina,” he said. “They want to use this model to take Gazivode Lake from us, as well as other energy resources and other public and state property.”

Djuric also made the surprising claim that the original agreement had been altered “during the night” by a mysterious “outsider, someone who is neither EU nor Pristina”. 

Meanwhile, Kosovo’s parliament is expected to pass a law on the ownership of the Trepca mining and metallurgical complex within days, despite objections from Serbia, Reuters reported on October 5. The law will be adopted on October 7 and envisages that the government will own 80% of the complex, and its miners will own the remaining 20%.

A group of Serbian miners have protested  against the plans, regional broadcaster N1 reported. The president of their union Dusko Dragovic said that workers will take all measures to protect their interests and will not leave Trepca to be guided by Kosovo’s government, according to local media.

Serb representatives in the Kosovan government have also objected to the Trepca draft law, claiming that the law excludes the Serb community from the process of deciding on Trepca’s future, and that the whole process is being politicised. Serb representatives walked out of the government session on the Trepca law.