Is a trap being set for Serbia in Chapter 35 in Brussels?

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Source: Wikipedia/ETH-Archiv

If the European Union decides to include the obligation to implement the Agreement on the Normalization of Relations between Kosovo and Serbia from February of this year, along with its annex from Ohrid, in Chapter 35 within the accession negotiations of Serbia to the EU, it would practically mean that without allowing Kosovo to cross the UN threshold, Serbia cannot become a member of the European Union.

In Article 4 of the Agreement on the Normalization of Relations between Kosovo and Serbia, it is stated that 'Serbia will not oppose Kosovo's membership in any international organization', thus including the United Nations. This is why this agreement primarily remains unsigned by Belgrade.

After certain media outlets, following insight into the draft of the conclusions of the EU on Serbia, announced that in mid-December, the European Council would ask the European Commission to supplement the criteria for Chapter 35 in Serbia's accession negotiations with provisions from these agreements before the end of January 2024, Serbian President Aleksandar Vuc ic stated that it would clearly mean that the 'EU does not want Serbia'.

"If you include Kosovo's UN membership as a part of Chapter 35, it is clear that you do not want Serbia. I do not believe that is possible, and I think such a decision will not be made", the President of Serbia said on Friday.

Interlocutors of Kosovo Online have different views on this announcement. While some believe that such a decision in Brussels would mean that Serbia is being asked to give up Kosovo for EU accession, and through these actions, the EU blatantly signals that it does not want Serbia in its ranks and exerts pressure on it, others point out that, by agreeing to new agreements in Brussels and Ohrid, Kosovo and Serbia have committed to entering the process of negotiations on further EU integrations. This is done without putting signatures on these documents. They also emphasize that it is questionable whether there is currently consensus in the European Council to make a change in Chapter 35.

A writer and journalist Zivojin Rakocevic says Kosovo Online that if the condition for Serbia to join the EU were to renounce Kosovo, it would not make sense for the Serbs, and that it often seems that the European Union is eagerly waiting to set some obstacles in front of Serbia and the Western Balkans so that they do not become a part of the EU, i.e., the international community does not sincerely want to see Serbia in the EU.

"Essentially, if the question of Serbia's entry into the European Union is renouncing Kosovo, and we have renounced everything real on Kosovo, except for membership in the United Nations, then that European Union makes no sense for Serbia and the majority of Serbian citizens, and for Kosovo Serbs, it would be another defeat that we practically live", he stated.

Rakocevic emphasizes that it cannot be expected for Serbia to sign recognition of Kosovo in any form.

"If in the hope that everything will be better for us, everything is surrendered, then that signature will mean nothing to Kosovo Serbs, and in essence, it won't mean anything to Serbia either. Everything has been so devalued that we can't even get the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities", Rakocevic said.

The essence is clear, he claims; efforts are being made to "erase the entire legacy of agreements we had in the past period, which on paper only guaranteed our rights".

"Essentially, the international community was preparing documents and telling the Albanians 'sign and don't implement'. The same thing applies to the latest documents; simply put, our life and our freedom say the following: if Kosovo Serbs tell you 'we have freedom', then everything is fine. Until that moment, we will live the way we live. No agreement will be implemented because fundamentally, the international community neither wants us so much in the European Union nor wants to implement what has been signed", Rakocevic concluded.

According to the assessment of historian Stanislav Sretenovic, anyone who wants to include the agreement from February and its annex in Chapter 35 of Serbia's negotiations with the EU does not have good intentions towards Serbia.

Sretenovic, in a statement to our portal, points out that neither Belgrade nor Pristina signed that document, and that the agreement was formulated in diplomatic circles in such a way that everyone can interpret it positively.

"The Union can say that, in a difficult, critical moment for peace in the Balkans, some agreement was reached. Serbia may hope that the issue of the missing will be resolved, and the CSM will be formed, while Kosovo may force the EU to take steps towards what they expect in international institutions, namely recognition", Sretenovic explains.

In such a power constellation, he says, if the Ohrid Agreement is included in an important EU document like Chapter 35, it would directly mean that, at a time when elections are being organized in Serbia, pressure is being exerted on the Government in Belgrade.

By doing so, he adds, the Government is practically putting itself in a corner, in a situation where it will have to take a certain action, which will then bring the Union and its steps to the forefront.

"I don't think that action will happen. In any case, Serbia cannot sign the recognition of Kosovo. No government in Serbia will do that in the next 100, or 200 years. It's an act that no one will do, and those who are pressuring Serbia in this way really do not have good intentions and continue with humiliation, which at this moment represents an outdated policy that will only degrade those who continue to humiliate Serbia, rather than constructively contribute to a fair agreement between the Serbs and the Albanians that would enable peace and prosperity in Serbia and the entire Balkans", Sretenovic concluded.

Coordinator of the National Convention on the EU for Chapter 35, Dragisa Mijacic, however, states that since the day both Kosovo and Serbia agreed in Brussels and Ohrid on a new agreement towards normalization, they committed to incorporating that agreement into the process of further EU integration for both Serbia and Kosovo.

"Now it's a matter of operationalization, or the amendment of Chapter 35 to incorporate the provisions of these agreements for Serbia. What is unclear at this moment is whether there is consensus among all EU member states in the European Council for this change to occur", Mijacic said for Kosovo Online.

According to him, certain EU members may not agree at this moment, but Serbia will certainly not be able to escape from what President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic committed to in February and March.

He also explains that including certain items in Chapter 35 is not such a simple process.

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"Previously, the common position of EU member states on Chapter 35 was delayed by two and a half years after the signing of the Brussels Agreement, so executing this process in such a short time is not so straightforward. However, one thing is certain: further implementation will not occur until a credible process for establishing the CSM begins", Mijacic emphasizes.

For Kosovo Online, Aleksandar Rapajic, the Program Director of the NGO "ACDC" from North Mitrovica, states that Chapter 35 can always be amended.

“This Chapter serves to incorporate things that happen during negotiations. It has always had an undefined category to seek progress in the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, meaning this progress may now be defined in some way. But is it good? I think it's not good to do that at this moment. This item that exists for Serbia is specific because it depends not only on what Belgrade does, but Serbia has a negotiation process in which it cannot act alone. Action from an external party is expected, and if Serbia conditions itself with solutions from the Ohrid Agreement or the Franco-German proposal, which was not officially adopted by Serbia in the end, then it would be an imposed solution", Rapajic says.

Rapajic believes that the formation of the CSM is essential for the Serbs in Kosovo, but any potential change to Chapter 35 would pose a problem for Serbia.

"For us in Kosovo, the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities is currently the most important. If this Ohrid Agreement leads to that, I think the position of the people living in Kosovo will improve, but it will worsen Serbia's position in the negotiation process in the sense that it will put a new demand in front of Serbia, requiring it to sign something at the end of this European path. Even though it was not explicitly stated in Chapter 35, it could be inferred that it would be one of the European Union's demands", Rapajic believes.

Milan Antonijevic, a legal expert, believes that proposals from the EU and everything related to Chapter 35 should be viewed as things that are in the interest of Serbia and perhaps even more so for the people living in Kosovo. He emphasizes the importance of finding a way to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina as soon as possible because daily incidents pose an obstacle to the Serbian community that has chosen to live in Kosovo.

Commenting on media reports that Kosovo's accession could be a condition for Serbia's entry into the EU, Antonijevic assesses that this is a period that is seven or eight years away.

"I hope that by then, relations and life in our region will be without any disruptions, without security risks. The expectation for Serbia to recognize Kosovo in a clear way is something that should be in the public discourse; we should discuss it. There are institutions that should deal with it—primarily the National Assembly and the Government, as well as the President who, together with his team, negotiates the normalization of relations", Antonijevic says, and adds that he does not expect such a debate to be on the agenda soon but believes it should not in any way hinder European integration.

"But at some point, we as a people, as a society, and as a state, must ask what guarantees long-term peace, what is in the interest of the survival and persistence of the Serbian community in Kosovo. Does the current vacuum in which the Serbian community in Kosovo lives contribute to making their lives quality, allowing them to develop economically and in every other way, or are we witnessing something that is a quiet and slow exodus, the departure of families from Kosovo one by one? I truly believe that this is not something behind which Serbia can stand in any way and at any time", Antonijevic assessed.