By Fatmir Aliu
Kosovo and Serbia are expected to sign an historic EU-mediated deal on Thursday in Brussels on Kosovo’s representation at regional meetings and on the management of Kosovo’s border with Serbia.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said on Thursday that with such a deal, both countries would be entering a new phase in their relationship.
“With the new agreement today in Brussels, Serbia will be recognizing the independence of Kosovo. It will be recognizing Kosovo’s declaration of independence [in 2008],” he claimed to the Express newspaper.
Earlier, on Monday, Thaci signalled he was ready to give ground in the dispute with Serbia over the way that Kosovo was represented in regional meetings, by agreeing that Kosovo would be represented at such fora with reference to UN Resolution 1244.
Reference to 1244 is a sticking point for Serbia. The 1999 resolution empowered the UN to assume authority over the then province of Serbia, but it did so without prejudicing Serbia’s claim to the territory.
Thaci insisted that the concession over resolution 1244, which angered Kosovo nationalists, did not compromise Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, the US and EU nudged both parties to be more flexible, and find a formula with which they both can be comfortable.
Nine hours of talks on Wednesday did not produce a final deal, however, prompting Belgrade’s chief negotiator, Borislav Stefanovic, to admit that the talks were tough.
On Thursday, Stefanovic said progress was more hopeful but that the outcome would respect Serbia’s national interests.
“We will fight till the end to find a solution in accordance with [UN] Resolution 1244, the [Serbian] constitution and our national interests,” Stefanovic said ahead of the meeting.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westervelle is scheduled to visit Belgrade on Thursday in the last-minute push to get Serbia to wrap up the dispute with Kosovo and so meet the criteria for EU candidate status.
EU-mediated talks started in March last year aimed at normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia, both of which share a desire to join the EU one day.
The two sides have reached deals on trade, freedom of movement, cadastral registry and mutual recognition of university diplomas, but none of them has ever been signed.
However, Kosovo has accused Serbia of putting most of the agreements on hold.
If the two sides fail to agree on key issues, Serbia could suffer more than Kosovo, as continued deadlock may threaten Serbia’s application for EU candidate status.