Lajcak: The dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is currently at a crossroads; an agreement exists, but implementation is lacking

Beograd_240619_Miroslav Lajčak
Source: Kosovo Online

EU Special Envoy for the Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Miroslav Lajcak, speaking on the Sbunker podcast ahead of the meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Brussels, says that the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue is currently at a crossroads, emphasizing that if the success of this process is desired, readiness for compromise is essential, and it must be clear to everyone that normalization of relations cannot occur amidst conflicts and tensions on the ground.

"On one hand, we have a promising development towards normalization of relations and European integration, marked by the agreement reached last year in Ohrid, which provided us a clear framework to move forward and paved the way for a final legally binding agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. However, for this to happen, both sides must fully implement what we agreed in Ohrid, which, unfortunately, has not yet occurred," Lajcak stated.

On the other hand, he points out, there exists a parallel reality characterized by tensions, violent escalations, and conflict.

"We have faced crises and violence on the ground. This forces the dialogue, myself, and my team, instead of focusing on progress and normalization of relations, to resort to crisis management and de-escalation. And instead of having tools that promote peace, cooperation, and European integration, we must manage crises. One thing is clear, there can be no normalization of relations if there is conflict on the ground," he emphasized.

Lajcak further notes that the responsibility lies on both sides, and this is not something that a mediator or outsider can influence.

It is up to the parties to choose normalization, to choose dialogue, to choose to implement the agreement, says Lajcak, adding that the agreement exists and he is convinced it is the best deal Serbia and Kosovo can achieve and is a gateway to the future.

Commenting on the negotiators from Kosovo and Serbia, Lajcak states that Albin Kurti and Aleksandar Vucic are legitimate leaders, each with a strong mandate from their voters.

"They represent the position and interests of their people. This is natural, but what is challenging for us as facilitators is that they have completely diametrically opposed approaches to the dialogue, and also their characters and differing approaches do not contribute to progress. Here I want to say one thing, if we want this process to succeed, if we want a dialogue on normalization, it must be based on compromise," he highlighted.

If anyone thinks that this can end with a complete victory for one side and nothing for the other, as Lajcak mentions, progress will not be achieved.

He indicates that both sides must present the agreement to the public and their parliaments.

"However, this understanding is lacking in our discussions, which is why we have not made as much progress as we would like," he says.

According to him, last year, at the end of the meeting in Ohrid, everyone thought that was it, an agreement was made, including both sides.

"The mood in the room where we had the meeting was that we had achieved something very significant and important because, with this agreement, we had a clear framework for the path to normalization. We no longer had to ask what or if, the question was only when. And we never had that before. But what is missing is implementation, the courage to take the first step, on the other hand, we as mediators were clear that implementation must be transparent and based on the principle that to receive something, something must be given, and I must say that none of the leaders welcomed this when they returned from Ohrid, none said we have something good for us," Lajcak stated.

He notes that it was difficult for Vucic and Kurti to face criticism from the opposition, civil society, and therefore he thinks that the issue of normalization is not for the leaders, but should be a question for the entire societies.

He emphasizes that the European Union has been very clear several times that normalization of relations is a key condition for progress in European integrations.

In this sense, as he says, the European Union is now ready for new members and this moment should help unlock the dialogue and implementation of the Ohrid Agreement.

Regarding the Community of Serb Municipalities, Lajcak says that it was agreed much before his time and the agreement between Vucic and Kurti in Ohrid. He notes that forming the Community of Serb Municipalities is crucial for normalization of relations and was included in the Brussels Agreement of 2013 and 2015.

He recalls that the agreement was ratified by the Assembly of Kosovo in 2015 and it was agreed on how it should be formed.

Indeed, he adds, there should be a draft statute to be negotiated within the framework of the dialogue, and this statute should be assessed by the Constitutional Court of Kosovo.

Lajcak points out that there were several proposals, but the first officially proposed last year, on May 2nd, was not acceptable for Kosovo, nor for the EU as a mediator.

Then, Lajcak reports, he called on both sides to draft a statute, but instead, they faced a crisis on the ground, and it was clear that after the crisis that ensued in May in the north due to Albanian mayors, violent demonstrations, the parties would not be able to create that document.

"Therefore, after consultations with EU member states, the USA, we decided to do it instead of the parties and we drafted the statute. The draft was created by legal experts, experts in the protection of minority rights, including experts from the Council of Europe, the USA, Germany, France, and Italy. This statute is based on what was initially agreed, respecting the judiciary of Kosovo and respecting the red lines that both sides presented during the dialogue," the EU Special Envoy for the Dialogue states.

He recalls that they presented this document in Belgrade and Pristina on October 21 and called on Vucic and Kurti to come to Brussels to discuss this document specifically.

"The first reaction of the Kosovo government was constructive; they sent comments on the text, comments were sent by both the government and the president of Kosovo, we had a discussion about it, and on October 26, Prime Minister Kurti said he was ready to accept the document as it is if it would be signed by Serbia and Kosovo along with the Ohrid agreement. Since then, there has been no further engagement around this document and we have not had progress in implementing that agreement," Lajcak said.

He adds that some important countries have advised Kosovo to send the draft statute to the Constitutional Court, which is the best way to see how much this document is in accordance with the Constitution.

"This is a logical suggestion to the Government of Kosovo. There is no reason to fear this document because I would never propose something that I would not propose for my own country and something that is not in accordance with European standards, European values," he said.

Asked about what he considers his greatest achievement during his tenure, Lajcak says it is the path to normalization because the process has moved at various levels and cannot be nullified as it is there and just needs to be implemented.

"And I really hope that after more than a year we will finalize the implementation and we won't be discussing the first steps. The agreement is there, I leave it to my successor, and what is needed is implementation," he said.

He lists other positive concrete solutions as achievements, such as agreements on energy, vehicle registration plates.

Regarding what he is not satisfied with, Lajcak mentions the lack of implementation. Answering a question about what advice he would give to his successor, Lajcak says the end of his term is not as near as initially thought and that his work continues.

For now, he says, he has no advice, and when the time comes, he will have much to share with his successor.

"There is currently one EU Special Envoy for the Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, here I am, you are talking to him, here is also my team, it is not yet time for advice," Lajcak stated.