Serbia-Kosovo talks in Brussels yield limited progress

Serbia-Kosovo talks in Brussels yield limited progress
The Serb side of the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica, northern Kosovo. / Clare Nuttall
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje November 17, 2023

The latest round of discussions at technical level between the chief negotiators of Serbia and Kosovo in Brussels, along with EU special envoy Miroslav Lajcak, concluded on November 16 without significant headway.

The separate meetings with Lajcak, characterised by contradictory statements, revealed a continued impasse in key areas of contention.

Despite declaring independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo remains not recognised as a distinct state by Belgrade. In recent appeals, European Union officials have pressed Belgrade to de facto recognise Kosovo. However, Serbian officials have staunchly rejected these calls, maintaining their stance against acknowledging Kosovo's sovereignty.

“Today, I hosted the chief negotiators of Kosovo, Besnik Bislimi and Serbia, Petar Petkovic, for a round of dialogue meetings in Brussels. Our discussions were helpful to make progress on a number of issues on our agenda,” Lajcak said in a post on X network.

However, Kosovo’s chief negotiator, Bislimi, emphasised Pristina's insistence on Serbia signing previously agreed documents as a prerequisite for advancing the formation of the Association of Serbian-majority municipalities — a crucial demand from Belgrade, Telegrafi reported.

Bislimi clarified that the discussions did not include the draft proposal for the association, but reiterated Prime Minister Albin Kurti's position from the October 26 meeting, emphasising that the acceptance and implementation of agreements depend solely on signatures.

The government of Kosovo affirmed its commitment to being a constructive participant in the negotiation process, expressing a full dedication to normalising relations with Serbia and achieving mutual recognition.

Obstacles encountered in the process, including the energy agreement and the matter of forcibly disappeared persons, were also addressed during the talks.

In contrast, Petar Petkovic, the director of Serbia's Office for Kosovo and Metohija, said that the issue of drafting the statute of the community of Serbian municipalities, as initial tangible step toward forming such  association was discussed with Lajcak.

Petkovic detailed the deliberations on executive powers, particularly in spatial planning, health, education, and economic development, with financial backing from Belgrade.

Energy-related issues and the matter of missing persons were also on the agenda, according to Petkovic, who expressed optimism about potential progress in these areas.

After over five hours of talks, he conveyed a conviction that dialogue and compromise solutions could pave the way for advancements in the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

In its latest report the European Commission underscored the critical importance of normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia as an essential condition for their respective European paths, underlying that both nations face potential missed opportunities should progress not be achieved.