Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue: Remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after the High-Level meeting with Prime Minister Kurti and President Vučić

We just concluded a High-Level meeting with President [of Serbia, Aleksandar] Vučić and Prime Minister [of Kosovo, Albin] Kurti, with both of them. It was the eleventh [set of] meetings between the two leaders [and me] that I chaired. Or [to be more precise] with the two leaders [that] I chaired – not between but with. Because this time, there was not been a trilateral meeting. 

When I took over, the [Belgrade-Pristina] Dialogue had been stalled for two years already. Therefore, one of my first points of action was to bring the Dialogue back to Brussels. I appointed – the Council appointed upon my proposal – Miroslav Lajčák as Special Representative for the [Belgrade-Pristina] Dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues, to keep an eye on the process 24/7.  

I think that we can say that, together, we have been working hard, and we succeeded in putting the process back on track and the European Union firmly in the driver’s seat in the summer of 2020.  

Looking back at the normalization process during the past four years, because it is four years, it has not been an easy period. Certainly not. We have been working in an increasingly complex geopolitical context. 

We have been faced with multiple crises, tensions, and escalations, primarily over license plates and freedom of movement issues.  We have seen barricades. We have seen roadblocks. We have been witnessing protests, protests turning violent and leaving more than 90 KFOR peacekeepers injured in May 2023, at the most dangerous moment of these last four years.  

We have seen also an armed incursion in September 2023, in which one Kosovo police officer was killed. This was also another very dangerous moment. 

Despite these challenges and difficulties, there have been successes – and I would like to take a moment to highlight what we have managed to achieve. Because it is often overlooked that the Dialogue can actually deliver for the benefit of the citizens in Kosovo and Serbia. 

Yes, we managed to move ahead with the implementation of the Energy Agreements by agreeing on the Energy Roadmap, which has been an important step towards ending the more than 20 years-long unregulated practice of non-payment for electricity in the north of Kosovo. This has been solved. 

We succeeded in abolishing the entry-exit documents, finally allowing all citizens of Kosovo and Serbia to travel freely between Kosovo and Serbia just using their identity cards.  

And we ultimately solved the license plates issue with the mutual recognition of the license plates of Kosovo and Serbia. This means that both the stickers and the license plates issued by Serbia in Kosovo belong to the past. They are no longer there. Freedom of movement is also an important achievement. People can now freely drive through and between Kosovo and Serbia.  Allow me to stress the importance of these achievements that benefit people. 

But most importantly, we managed to reach the milestone Agreement on the Path to Normalisation and its Implementation Annex in February and March 2023 – the so-called Ohrid Agreements. We need to acknowledge that it truly is a leap forward because, for the first time, this provides a clear framework for the future of the process.  

Now we know what we agreed to do. However, unfortunately, more than a year later, the Agreement remains unimplemented. It was an important step forward. This agreement marked the future actions, but this agreement remains unimplemented one year after it was agreed. 

Both parties bear the responsibility for not fulfilling what they promised to do. The non-implementation is a huge lost opportunity for both parties. 

As part of the Agreement, we managed to address the most sensitive issues in the Dialogue, including the issue of minority rights through the establishment of an Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities in Kosovo.  

We agreed on that, but no steps have been taken towards it being established. To help the process move forward, we put on the table preparatory steps towards the establishment and even presented a European Draft Statute. A European Draft Statute provides for a truly European and modern way to deal with this sensitive issue, exploring the different kinds of solutions for this type of situation, and providing for what we consider a modern way to deal with these very sensitive issues. 

And looking at this list of achievements, I think that we have done a lot. Many problems have been solved. But I do not want to forget that the normalization process can only progress as fast as the two parties want because it is about the normalization of their relations – among them. 

We – and the EU Special Representative – cannot want normalization more than Kosovo and Serbia want. They are the parties, they have to normalize [relations] between them, not with us. So, it is up to them to implement the normalization agreement. 

Today, we had another meeting. President Vučić and Prime Minister Kurti presented their views and explained their positions on how the process could move forward. 

The discussions were – as expected – as difficult as [they] always have been and, in the end, there was no trilateral meeting. Kosovo was not ready for this. Kosovo was not willing to do this trilateral meeting. Serbia was ready to do it. But you need two to dance tango, and you need two to sit around the table in order to continue the Dialogue. This has not been possible today. Unfortunately, no progress in the implementation of the Agreement could be achieved today.  

Prime Minister Kurti presented three conditions for their further engagement in the broader normalization process. Allow me to explain why it has not been possible to go forward today – because Prime Minister Kurti presented three conditions for their further engagement in the broader normalization process. And I want to quote, to stick to the reality as much as I can in my explanation. 

I quote: 

First, [the] formalization of the Basic Agreement through signing by the respective Heads of State and Government. This is an old request. 

Second, [the] withdrawal of the reservation letter officially deposited with the [European] External Action Service by former Prime Minister of Serbia, [Ana] Brnabić, dated 13 December 2023. We are still talking about things that happened six months ago. 

And third, handing over Milan Radojčić and his paramilitary-terrorist group to Kosovo’s judicial authorities. 

This is the end of the quote of the requests – the three requests – presented by Prime Minister Kurti. 

Serbia was not ready to fully meet Kosovo’s conditions, citing constitutional constraints, while President Vučić indicated that he is ready to explore options about the former Prime Minister’s letter – that we mentioned before – and formalizing the Agreement in line with past Dialogue practices, to unblock [the] implementation of the Agreement.  

Before the meeting, the European Union, we, have presented a new proposal for the implementation plan that would guide the implementation phase of the Agreement. Unfortunately, the conditioning of implementation did not allow the discussions to focus on how to proceed with the concrete implementation actions by the parties.  

So, the parties’ positions remain far apart on how the implementation of the Agreement could be launched – and consequently how the normalization process should continue.  

As I said before, we cannot want normalization – as the European Union, alone – of the relations between the parties if [they] themselves cannot agree on how to move forward. We cannot substitute them in the implementation of the Agreement.

Our role is to assist and support the parties in their efforts under the Dialogue process, and this is what we are still committed to continue doing.  

In this vein, the process will continue. We will continue working on it. EUSR Lajčák will host the two Chief Negotiators in Brussels next week to continue discussing the implementation plan of the Agreement as well as other Dialogue issues. 

On our side, we will continue working and now, it is for the two parties to show constructiveness and enable the process to move forward. We continue believing that this is in their interest and the interest of their European integration aspirations.   

I believe it takes courage, vision, and political will of the leaders, for the future of Kosovo and Serbia, and the well-being of their citizens.  

Once again, as the European Union, we stand ready to help every step along the way. 

Today, it has not been possible to go further and to agree, but we will continue putting all our efforts and capacities at the service of the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

Thank you.