Indecent Proposal from Brussels: Are the Changes in Chapter 35 Closing the EU's Doors to Serbia?

Srbija Kosovo EU
Source: Sputnjik

In the current geopolitical situation, where the power of major forces is measured in a new international order, the European Union would benefit most from resolving the Kosovo issue as soon as possible, ideally in a manner that serves their highest interest—namely, Serbia's de facto recognition of Kosovo. Thus, as experts point out, comes the idea to include the Brussels Agreement from last February and the Ohrid Annex, which presupposes Kosovo's sovereignty and membership in international organizations, as binding elements in Serbia's EU negotiation framework. Although this decision is not surprising to many, it certainly raises questions about the continuation of Serbia's negotiation process and whether the EU truly desires Serbia's membership.

Yesterday, EU foreign ministers confirmed without debate the amendments to Chapter 35 in the accession negotiations with Serbia, which pertain to Serbia's obligations arising from the agreements reached last year with Pristina in Brussels and Ohrid.

By incorporating these agreements into Chapter 35, the EU is attempting to extract a recognition of Kosovo from Serbia, asking it to forget the "red lines" that official Belgrade has been discussing since the presentation of the French-German plan, in order to continue its path towards membership.

"Serbia needs to fully implement its obligations arising from the Agreement on the Path to Normalization with Kosovo, in accordance with the annex on implementation agreed on March 18," states the adopted text.

The document also mentions that "all discussions related to the implementation of the agreement will take place within the framework of the dialogue under the auspices of the EU."

Dragisa Mijacic, Coordinator of the National Convention for Chapter 35, indicated that it is not surprising that the Ohrid Agreement has become part of Chapter 35.

"The decision to include the Ohrid Agreement, and prior to that the Brussels Agreement, the so-called agreement on the path to normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, into the negotiation Chapter 35 was defined by the Ohrid Agreement itself. It was supposed to be implemented immediately after accepting the Ohrid Agreement, which happened last year on March 18, so it's no surprise that it has become a formal obligation of Serbia in the process of joining the European Union," Mijacic told Kosovo Online.

He added that no one should really be surprised by this development.

"After all, Serbia itself committed to implementing the Agreement, hence this obligation within Chapter 35, which is why it states that what the President committed to will be implemented," concluded Mijacic.

Nemanja Starovic, State Secretary at the Ministry of Defense, also states that this decision comes as no surprise as, for months, it has been anticipated. However, he emphasizes to Kosovo Online that it is a unilateral decision over which Serbia had no influence.

"We must keep in mind several things, primarily that this is a unilateral decision by the EU foreign ministers, about which Serbia was not consulted and could not influence. By amending the negotiation framework for Chapter 35, they are essentially trying to impose obligations on Serbia that it has never accepted," says Starovic.

He explains that by referencing the Ohrid Agreement itself, without the reservations and caveats expressed by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during and immediately after the conclusion of that agreement, in full compliance with the Vienna Convention and diplomatic relations, Serbia is being forced into obligations it did not accept.

"Even when we talk about those obligations not covered by those two reservations and two red lines, which include our refusal to recognize Kosovo and Pristina's membership in international organizations of the UN and all UN agencies, even beyond all that, there is no talk of something that should be very clear from the perspective of common sense. None of the obligations Serbia accepted can proceed without the prior fulfillment of what Pristina committed to more than 11 years ago - the formation of the CSM," says Starovic. He adds that this is mentioned in the amended text of the negotiation framework "in a rather inelegant way only through a sentence" - that the issue of implementing the Ohrid Agreement will continue to be resolved through the Brussels Dialogue.

"In practice, therefore, this decision by the EU foreign ministers will not lead to any substantive changes and will certainly represent another obstacle on Serbia's path to EU membership, but unfortunately, there has been no shortage of obstacles until now. Simply put, as it has been before, whether our doors to membership will be open, and how and when, will primarily be decided in Brussels. So, nothing new," says Starovic.

Diplomat Zoran Milivojevic also believes that by including the Ohrid Agreement in Chapter 35, the EU is trying to forcibly impose on Serbia the obligation to accept this agreement. As he points out to Kosovo Online, this clarifies the EU's position - that it is no longer status-neutral and has opted to pressure Serbia to recognize the so-called new reality, i.e., to accept the de facto recognition of Kosovo.

He noted that this is clearly seen in Articles 2 and 4, reminding that Article 2 requires Serbia to accept sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with the UN Charter and to prioritize the principle of self-determination of international law over other principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. This, he asserts, is a clear roadmap towards de facto recognition.

On the other hand, he notes that Article 4 requires Serbia to allow Kosovo's access to international organizations without exception, including the UN and UN system organizations. Therefore, he concludes, Serbia has reservations about the Ohrid Agreement and does not consider it binding.

"Inclusion in Chapter 35 is an attempt to forcibly impose on Serbia that the Ohrid Agreement is binding for Serbia and to make it a condition for accession negotiations, or for joining the EU in the future, whenever that may be. This is now completely clear and it questions the further negotiation process because it already crosses the 'red lines' which Serbia is not ready to discuss and about which it is not possible to negotiate with Serbia, because we have at least three constraints - the Constitution of Serbia, the general mood and opinion of the majority in the country, and finally, international law and Resolution 1244, which says something completely different," stated Milivojevic.

He pointed out that by incorporating the Ohrid Agreement into Chapter 35, the EU discredits itself as a mediator in the normalization talks because, as he highlights, it declares its stance on status.

The EU, he explains, has a mandate from the UN General Assembly to support and assist in the normalization negotiations and to act as a status-neutral party in the dialogue between Serbia and Pristina.

"In this way, it (the EU) aligns itself with one side and thus confirms its policy of double standards, divisions, and support for Pristina and the Kurti government and all its measures and actions of repression, denying rights in every sense, as shown by the failed referendum and the stance of the Serbian people. It is now apparent that the major European powers have supported this thesis from the beginning and were not impartial; they supported the Pristina side and approved the measures and actions of the Pristina side to establish a new reality in the north of KiM, thereby influencing the negotiation process of Serbia and the resolution of the Kosovo issue," the diplomat emphasizes.

Geopolitically, there is currently a preference for pressuring Serbia, Milivojevic notes, adding that it is in the interest of many for the Kosovo issue to be resolved quickly and effectively, i.e., through de facto recognition.

This is, he says, in the interest of the Western powers regarding the war in Ukraine, the unfolding of the global scenario, and a potential conflict for dominance in the new international order.

On the other hand, "Copenhagen conditions," the rule of law, reforms, and all that is required by chapters 23 and 24 are now in the background and overshadowed by politics, the diplomat points out.

"The European Union at this moment prioritizes geopolitics in EU policy, both towards us and towards some issues in Europe. At this moment, geopolitics dominate, not 'Copenhagen conditions' and what should be a priority for us," said Milivojevic.

However, the diplomat emphasizes that regardless of the EU's stance and their demands, "not today, not tomorrow, not ever" will Serbia discuss joining the EU with the renunciation of Kosovo.

"That is not a topic for us; our Constitution, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, as well as the opinion of the majority, are more important than the state's renunciation of itself. I think it is less important when Serbia will have to fulfill its obligations, but rather that they are conditioning us and thus opening the fundamental question of whether they want Serbia in the EU," he stressed.

Asked whether the inclusion of the Ohrid Agreement in Chapter 35 means that countries that do not recognize Kosovo support its becoming a UN member, Milivojevic emphasizes that on this issue, there is a kind of legal acrobatics and politics.

He points out that there is no recognition stipulation in the Ohrid Agreement, but the provisions in that document create conditions for it.

"There was some consensus reached even with countries that have not recognized Kosovo, with the focus on Serbia. If we recognized, then it would not oblige them; they would rely on that and then treat it the same as we do. So, without de jure recognition, they would treat it as de facto recognition, and they would behave accordingly with the excuse that Serbia did it. If we did it, we would create conditions, similar to the German arrangement of 1974, to legitimize Kosovo and to gain international legal personality, and then those countries would act according to a pragmatic model," explained Milivojevic.

If Serbia were to de facto recognize Kosovo, he adds, it would open the way to the UN and would question Resolution 1244, not the "non-recognizer" countries.

"If the parent country recognizes the independence of its territory, then it changes the situation and everything now depends on us," concludes the diplomat.