By Bojana Barlovac
Kosovo and Serbia appear finally to have agreed a complex formula by which Kosovo can be represented at regional fora without provoking a Serbian boycott or walkout.
According to the deal Kosovo will be represented at regional forums simply under the name of “Kosovo” but also with a footnote referring both to UN Resolution 1244 and the opinion of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, on Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
More precisely, the footnote will read: “This label [ie “Kosovo”] does not prejudge the status of Kosovo and is in accordance with Resolution 1244 and the opinion of the ICJ on Kosovo’s declaration of independence.”
The 1999 resolution empowered the UN to take control of the former Serbian province without prejudicing Serbia’s claim to the territory.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. But Serbia does not recognise the new country and Belgrade has been refusing to participate in fora and conferences where Kosovo is represented as an independent country with its own state symbols.
In July 2010, the ICJ found that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law or UN Resolution 1244. While the opinion is non-binding, it was widely seen as a victory for Kosovo.
The parties also concluded a technical protocol on the implementation of the so-called Integrated Border Management, IBM, deal reached on December 2, 2011.
Borislav Stefanovic, head of Serbia’s negotiating team, expressed satisfaction with the result, noting that Pristina’s request for special mention of the 2008 declaration of Independence in the footnote had not been met.
“Freedom of movement is enabled, implementation of the agreement is provided. The agreement fully meets our requirements,” Stefanovic said in Brussels.
He also said that Serbia had now met all the criteria to obtain EU candidacy.
Edita Tahiri, head of Kosovo’s negotiating team, did not appear before reporters.
Catherine Ashton, EU Foreign Policy Chief, and Stefan Fule, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, called the agreement a big step forward.
Ashton said: “I want to congratulate both parties on these two substantial agreements. One puts into operational form the agreement on integrated management of crossing points.
The other consolidates regional cooperation and ensures that everyone is properly represented. Both are further steps along the European path.”
“The deal demonstrates a commitment on both sides to their common European future,” Fule said.
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 Meanwhile Kosovo has accused Serbia of putting most of the agreements on hold.
Progress in talks between Serbia and Kosovo is a timely issue for Serbia right now. EU ministers are to decide next Tuesday on Serbia’s bid for EU candidate status – and Brussels has made it clear that the chance of a green light greatly depends on the outcome of the Belgrade-Pristina talks.