Meeting of Serbia, Kosovo leaders ends without agreement

Meeting of Serbia, Kosovo leaders ends without agreement
A dispute over car number plates has raised tensions in the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo. / Kosovan interior ministry
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje November 21, 2022

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo found no solution to their dispute during talks in Brussels on November 21, raising fears that the tense situation in northern Kosovo may escalate further.

The meeting, which lasted more than seven hours, was called by the EU in the hope that the two sides would find a solution to the problem related to the re-registration of cars with Serbian number plates in Kosovo, before the expiration of Pristina’s November 21 deadline. 

The issue has raised tensions in the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo, prompting local Serbs to hold protests and stage a mass walkout from state institutions. There are fears of a further escalation once the Kosovan authorities start fining residents who do not comply. 

Kosovo's police have repeated that Serbs in northern Kosovo who failed to replace their status-neutral KS car plates with RKS ones, will be fined €150 starting from November 22.

“We put forward a proposal that could avoid this dangerous situation. [Serbian] President [Aleksandar] Vucic accepted it, but unfortunately [Kosovan] Prime Minister [Albin] Kurti did not,” EU High Representative Josep Borrell said after the meeting.

Borrell added he will inform his EU colleagues and international partners about the behaviour of the parties in the talks and the lack of respect for international legal obligations, which according to him, especially applies to Kosovo.

"For reasons unclear to me, we were unable to reach an agreement," Vucic said after meeting Kurti in the presence of Borrell and EU special envoy Miroslav Lajcak.

Vucic said that the Serbian side was “completely constructive”, but that Kurti did not want to accept the postponement of the announced measures. He said representatives of the EU and the US repeatedly asked Kurti to postpone the decision on car re-registration, but he rejected the idea.

“I am proud of the fact that the Serbian delegation came to Brussels with the clear intention to talk and reach an agreement, to make compromises, and to preserve peace,” Vucic said.

Meanwhile, Kurti said in a statement posted on Twitter that while an agreement had been close, he was not prepared to accept any proposal unless it was accompanied by an agreement to “urgently commit to a final agreement for the complete normalisation of relations”. 

“We cannot turn ourselves into state leaders that are dealing only with car plates and are not talking about how to normalise their relations," the Kosovan prime minister added.

“We are disappointed that it was not possible to solve the licence plate dispute. Now is the time for responsibility and pragmatic solutions. Escalation must be avoided,” Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg tweeted.

He stressed that Nato-led Kosovo mission KFOR will remain vigilant.

Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008 and it is still not recognised by Belgrade as a separate country. Pristina and Belgrade are engaged in an EU-mediated dialogue which so far has not brought significant progress.