High-level Belgrade-Pristina talks end without concrete agreement

By bne IntelliNews January 28, 2016

A new round of high-level talks between Serbia and Kosovo, focused on the implementation of previously reached agreements, ended late on January 27. According to Kosovan prime minister Isa Mustafa, there was no concrete deal resulting from the meeting, while his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic said the talks were not easy.

This was the first high-level meeting since August 25, when Belgrade and Pristina reached an agreement on the creation of an association of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo, which was also the main topic in the latest talks. This issue led to a serious political crisis in Kosovo, as it was contested by opposition parties. However, for Serbian side the formation of Serb majority association is of great importance.

The talks in Brussels were facilitated by the European Commission’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Federica Mogherini.

“We took stock of the implementation of the 2011 agreement on acceptance of university diplomas and the freedom of movement, the first agreement of April 2013 and the August 2015 agreements,” Mogherini said in the EU statement.

On August 2015, Vucic and Mustafa also agreed on further implementation of the energy agreement, the Action Plan for Telecoms, which was aimed to facilitate the telecommunications system and operations in Kosovo, as well as freedom of movement on the Mitrovica bridge.

According to Mogherini, the new high-level talks were held in a “very good atmosphere.”

It was confirmed that the mutual acceptance of educational and professional diplomas and certificates is becoming a reality, on basis of which, students will be able to continue their studies and professionals will be able to improve their employment prospects, both in Serbia and in Kosovo, Mogherini added.

The Kosovan government said on January 25 that both sides agreed earlier this month that a deal on the mutual recognition of diplomas will enter force on March 1.

According to Mogherini, there has been a significant advance in the implementation of the agreement on freedom of movement, in particular on the provisions on license plates.

The discussion also focused on the commitment of both sides to work on the implementation of the agreement for the establishment of the community of Serb majority municipalities, based on already signed agreements.

Both sides also agreed to start discussions on establishing direct air and rail connections between Kosovo and Serbia.

“Today's meetings demonstrated their willingness to move forward with a very constructive approach,” Mogherini said.

The talks are part of the Brussels Agreement, an April 2013 EU-brokered deal aimed at normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Progress since then has been relatively slow, despite a strong incentive in the form of progress towards EU accession.

During the break, between the two rounds of the dialogue on January 27 , Vucic told national broadcaster Radio Televizija Srbije (RTS) that talks were not easy but they were “useful” and contributed to “mutual respect”.

“The talks mean that we are becoming a reliable partner of the EU but also of the US which, furthermore, means we build our path to the future,” Vucic said.

He underlined that Serbian side doesn’t want to give up on the deals made in Brussels so far.

However, he hinted at problems ahead, saying that Serbia’s early parliamentary elections, which are expected to take place in spring 2016 would be held on the “whole territory of Serbia” which under the Serbian constitution includes Kosovo.

Serbia’s main political goal is to become an EU member but it has been the only country candidate whose negotiation process is conditioned by non-member as its negotiation Chapter 35 covers normalisation of relation between Belgrade and Pristina. Chapter 35 is one of the two firstly opened negotiation chapters with Serbia.

Serbia opened its first two accession negotiation chapters on December 14 when Brussels decided to open negotiations on Chapter 32 on financial control and Chapter 35.

Kosovo is also an EU-aspiring country. The European Parliament on January 21 approved the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) between the EU and Kosovo, which is seen as an important first formal step in Kosovo’s integration into the EU bloc. However, Pristina has been disappointed by delays in securing visa-free travel to the EU for its citizens.

Both, Serbia and Kosovo are under EU pressure to normalise their relations in aim to make further progress in their EU paths.

According to some analysts from Kosovo, the continuation of the talks now may be on hold for a while, due to the upcoming elections in Serbia and the political crisis in Kosovo that resulted mainly from the agreement for establishing an association of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo, which is unacceptable for Kosovo’s opposition parties.

The opposition has been boycotting the work of the Assembly for months, insisting that the agreement leads to the division of Kosovo. The opposition has announced the next protest for February 17, when Kosovo celebrates the eight anniversary of its independence from Serbia.

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