Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Pristina Belgrade: Just Another Round

Dessislava Dimitrova, November 28, 2011

The negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, the latter still refusing to accept the independence of the former, are not a sports game but nonetheless they have something in common with a boxing game: there are two teams – Pristina and Belgrade - a judge from the EU, who presides the negotiations(Robert Cooper) and several rounds. Unlike boxing though, the debates between the two sides have been running for a seventh round now and by the end of the month a new one is expected to take place.

The official statement, following the last round of talks on Tuesday (22 November), reads that the two parties have agreed that the European University Association will be asked to certify diplomas, issued by universities from each of the two countries, and that the parties would return to the issue of effective and inclusive regional cooperation at their next meeting, with a view to reaching an agreement. For the time being, Pristina insists on common management of the border area, while Belgrade opposes this idea.

According to Serbian media, the next meeting will take place on November 30, when Belgrade hopes that an agreement will be reached on the participation of Pristina representatives in large regional events, as some kind of an agreement has already been reached during the last round of talks.

Despite the consent, reached on some of the controversial issues, Pristina’s position after the talks was that there were still some “conceptual differences”. Talking about this earlier this month in London, Serbia’s President Boris Tadic said that Belgrade wanted to solve the Kosovo issue as soon as possible, but it also needed guarantees for the Serbs in what Belgrade still calls its province.

Some analysts in Belgrade, however, interpret Tadic's words as aimed at binding the Kosovo issue with Serbia’s EU membership. According to Vladimir Todoric from the Belgrade-based Centre for New Policy, Tadic was trying to get a new round of negotiations, which to give some guarantees for the Serbs in Kosovo, as so far Pristina had been declining to discuss political issues. “If the main goal is getting a candidate status it automatically diminishes the chances to increase the guarantees for the Serbs, living in Kosovo”, he said.

Everybody is trying to resolve the Kosovo issue, while at the same time they look at it as something that has to be bound to Serbia’s candidate status, which excludes political dialogue. However, if Serbia says that this dialogue is necessary, regardless of the EU integration, this is something completely different,” the analyst added.

Apparently, Serbia is hoping for some good news from Brussels on December 9, when the EU leaders will meet. However, it is possible that this will not happen.

According to Serbian media, in order to get a candidate status Serbia has to meet four criteria related with: the civil registry, the cadastre, the free movement over the crossing points and the obligation to do everything that has so far been agreed with Pristina. On most of these issues there is progress to a certain extent.

In an interview with Free Europe Balkans radio, however, the British expert on Western Balkans, Ian Bancroft, says that Belgrade may not live to its expectations. “I am rather sceptic on the possibility for Serbia to get a candidate status on December 9. In the last few weeks I have been listening to the old mantras that if it does not happen, it will be in favour of the radicals. But if next week the issue on the customs points between Serbia and Kosovo is not resolved, Serbia may not gain a status. And the argument that if it fails to get the status would bring the country back to the 1990s regime is not sustainable any more.”

In his words, some EU members think Serbia should become a candidate only because it has relaunched a dialogue with Pristina but there is a hard core, led by Germany, according to which Belgrade has to do a lot more in order to deserve its status and in the end it will depend on whose opinion will prevail.

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