City of OHRID, North Macedonia After decades of tensions between the two Balkan wartime foes, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced Saturday that the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo had reached a tentative agreement on how to implement a plan to normalize their relations, which had been sponsored by the EU.


After almost 12 hours of talks in the North Macedonian lakeside resort of Ohrid, Borrell told reporters that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti ” have reached an agreement on how to do it.”
After a war in 1998–199 and Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008, the two countries finally reached an agreement last month on the language of an 11-point European Union plan to normalize relations.

“Objective today was to agree on how to implement the agreement accepted in the last high-level meeting,” Borrell said. In other words, “this means concrete steps on what needs to be done, when, by who, and how.”

Both nations have expressed an interest in joining the European Union in the future, and have been cautioned that improving diplomatic ties is a prerequisite to membership. As war rages in Ukraine, and as concerns grow that Russia may try to stir instability in the volatile Balkans, where it holds historic influence, resolving the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has become more important.

According to Borrell, “it will become an integral part of their respective European Union path,” even though “a more ambitious text” was proposed at the beginning of Saturday’s negotiations than the one the parties have accepted.

There was “no consensus” on the more comprehensive proposal, Borrell said. Kosovo was not flexible enough on the agreement’s substance, and Serbia had previously stated a principled refusal to sign despite being prepared to carry out the agreement.

There is no doubt that both Kosovo and Serbia will benefit greatly from this agreement, as the reason for the dialogue is not limited to the two countries’ desire to improve relations. Borrell emphasized that regional prosperity, security, and stability were at stake.

According to the EU plan, both countries must treat their neighbors with respect and acknowledge each other’s legal documents and national symbols. If put into effect, it would stop Belgrade from interfering with Kosovo’s membership applications to the UN and other international organizations.

The United States and France and Germany drafted and negotiated the agreement, but it doesn’t require that Kosovo and Serbia recognize each other.

Pressure from far-right groups who see Kosovo as the birthplace of the Serbian state and the Serbian Orthodox religion appears to have caused Serbia’s populist President Vucic to backtrack on some points of the EU plan reached last month.

After previously promising to never recognize Kosovo or allow its UN membership, Vucic said on Thursday that he “won’t sign anything” at the Ohrid meeting. On Saturday, he reiterated that he has not signed the implementation document, despite Kurti’s insistence that he do so.
In his own words, “Today wasn’t any kind of D day, but it was good,” Vucic declared. The upcoming months will be filled with challenging work.

While Vucic did not sign the implementation deal on Saturday, Kurti was not happy about it.

Now it’s up to the EU to make it legally binding around the world, Kurti said.

Formerly part of Serbia, Kosovo is now home to a sizeable ethnic Albanian population. Belgrade’s harsh repression of ethnic Albanian separatists’ rebellion against Serbia’s rule sparked a war in the region in 1998 and 1999. Most of the estimated 13,000 fatalities were of ethnic Albanians. Serbia withdrew from the area in 1999 due to a NATO military intervention. Independence for Kosovo was declared in 2008.

Since then, tensions have steadily increased. There are many Western nations that have acknowledged Kosovo’s independence. But Russia and China are backing Belgrade in their opposition. Negotiations mediated by the European Union (EU) have stalled in recent years.
Because of Moscow’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence and possible veto on its UN membership at the Security Council, Serbia has maintained close ties to its traditional Slavic ally Russia despite the war in Ukraine.