New Round of Vucic-Kurti Dialogue: Who is for agreement and who is just posing?

Vučić, Borelj, Lajčak, Kurti u Briselu
Source: Kosovo Online

After nine months, a high-level round of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina will be held in Brussels tomorrow, attended by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti. Expectations for any progress from these talks are minimal.

For the Serbian side, the top priority is for Pristina to finally start forming the Community of Serb Municipalities. On this issue, the President of the Kosovo Assembly, Glauk Konjufca, was more than clear yesterday, stating, "No such Community is on the agenda for Kosovo, once and for all."

Kurti heads to Brussels amid criticisms from the opposition that he is "weak at the negotiating table" and non-transparent about the dialogue, making it even less likely that he will show any willingness regarding the CSM. His agreement to come to Brussels, despite knowing what is expected from Pristina, is actually linked to the possibility of the EU lifting punitive measures against Kosovo, as well as concerns about Kosovo being excluded from the Western Balkans Growth Plan, as access to these funds requires constructive engagement in normalizing relations.

In such "posturing" circumstances, it seems that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, could only break the deadlock if he had a magic wand.

"I am trying to restart the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, to find an operational solution. We have an agreement, the Ohrid Agreement. It must be implemented," Borrell said yesterday in response to why he invited Vucic and Kurti to the meeting.

Ahead of this round, EU Special Representative for the Dialogue Miroslav Lajcak, whose mandate will not end on August 31 but will last a few additional months, visited Pristina and Belgrade last week and stated that he is "fully focused on working and preparing the next steps."

Dragisa Mijacic, coordinator of the National Convention on the EU Working Group for Chapter 35, told Kosovo Online that at this moment, it is not realistic to achieve any agreement, but the meeting in Brussels is very important as it is the first high-level encounter since last September, aimed at unblocking the dialogue.

The dialogue stalled last September because the Kosovo side did not accept the sequencing plan, i.e., the implementation plan for the Ohrid Agreement, so both sides are expected to demonstrate their commitment to the Ohrid Agreement.

"Both sides will be asked to confirm that they truly stand behind the agreements they accepted last year, and thereafter, a work dynamic should be established that will start from September, after the summer break. The issue of forming the Community of Serb Municipalities is the question of all questions, and through this question, other pressing issues in Kosovo, such as the currency issue, organizing new elections, and the functioning of mayors should also be resolved. Thus, it is crucial to determine how to form the CSM and whether Kurti is still willing to work on implementing this part of the agreement, without which access to any other part of the agreement is impossible, as seen with the unsuccessful membership in the Council of Europe," states Mijacic.

He adds, from the Kosovo side, the first step expected is to start forming the Community of Serb Municipalities, namely for the Government of Kosovo to adopt the European draft statute of the CSM, which would later be sent to the Constitutional Court of Kosovo for review. Subsequently, the first step from Serbia is expected, primarily the acceptance of Kosovo's documents.

"The entire sequencing plan is designed so that one side does something, then the other side will act, and step by step, trust will be built and progress made towards implementing what the sides committed to last year. If either side shows that they are no longer ready to implement the agreement, simply put, the whole negotiation process falls apart and awaits a new moment, new envoys, and new negotiations," evaluates Mijacic.

Political analyst from Pristina, Arbnor Sadiku, believes that the new round of dialogue in Brussels at the highest level serves the European Union to justify itself and to claim control over the political situation between Kosovo and Serbia.

"We have an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, after which Serbia tried to blame Kosovo for the failure of the agreement, and Kosovo tried to say that Serbia was to blame for not respecting the agreement," says Sadiku for Kosovo online.

That tomorrow's round is a cover, but for Albin Kurti, believes Aleksandar Sljuka from the NGO "New Social Initiative," who says it comes in the light of the announced lifting of EU sanctions on Kosovo and that Kurti's presence can be interpreted in the context that he wants to show how constructive he is and that he wants to talk.

Sljuka recalls reports from some media which suggest that certain countries, especially those that do not recognize Kosovo, as well as Italy and France, have certain reservations about lifting sanctions on Kosovo and prefer a gradual lifting of measures.

"Kurti's agreement to this meeting can be interpreted in that direction - that he wants to show an act of good will, how constructive he is, how he wants to talk and perhaps strengthen the will of those member states that are hesitant about lifting measures," Sljuka states in a statement for Kosovo online.

According to his assessment, the discussion of "grand questions" within the dialogue should not overshadow the smaller issues, which have actually caused crises in recent years.

"The currency issue is still unresolved; we've had seven meetings and have not come to a solution. I think these matters should also be discussed; I wouldn't want them to be ignored. We've seen that discussions about grand questions and the last option of the agreement have not resolved these minor disagreements and have not prevented unilateral actions by the Government of Kosovo which have led to escalation on the ground," he believes.

The numerous problems facing the Serbian community, he assesses, will remain unresolved even after tomorrow's meeting.

"There might be discussions on how to persuade Kosovo to take some steps in terms of forming the CSM, but many questions that primarily concern the Serbian community in Kosovo will remain unaddressed. We have had a ban on the import of Serbian goods in effect for a year now. We have a problem with the currency issue. People here cannot withdraw it. We have the presence of special police and all those police bases that have been built recently as well as expropriation. Numerous problems that will still remain unresolved after the meeting on June 26. I wouldn't be too optimistic, but of course, it is good that such a meeting at a higher level is finally held, if nothing else, at least we can hope for some movement," concludes Sljuka.