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EU rebukes Serbia, Kosovo for limited progress on dialogue and membership reforms

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The European Commission urged both Belgrade and Pristina on Wednesday (8 November) to begin implementing their obligations under past agreements, including a revival of their stalled normalisation talks, stressing this was vital for their future EU path.

“Both Serbia and Kosovo are yet to start the implementation of their respective obligations” under the EU-brokered Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, “which are binding for the parties and a key part of their European paths”, the enlargement progress report said.

“Normalisation of relations is an essential condition on the European path of both parties and both risks losing important opportunities in the absence of progress,” the report stated.

Kosovo, which applied for EU candidate status in December 2022, would, however, need “to demonstrate more serious commitment” to normalise its relations with Serbia.

De-escalation will also determine whether a set of temporary measures taken against Kosovo earlier will be reversed, the report added.

Serbia, on the other hand, “continued the implementation of EU accession-related reforms, including in the area of rule of law” but the EU’s executive noted that “further amendments will be needed to be fully in line with the EU acquis and European standards”. The acquis denotes the entire body of EU legislation.

This would also require that Belgrade “improve, as a matter of priority, its alignment with the EU’s common foreign and security policy, including restrictive measures and statements on Russia”.

The warning in the enlargement report comes after Brussels has been trying for years to resolve the long-running dispute between Serbia and its former province, which declared independence from Belgrade in 2008.

The EU believed it had broken the deadlock by hammering out a plan to normalise ties in March, but there has been no progress since then.

It also follows another failed attempt by EU leaders two weeks ago to convince the two countries’ leaders to make a breakthrough in the protracted push to normalise ties.

While those talks had been inconclusive, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said that another meeting could be organised “soon”.

However, after months of tensions and one of the worst cross-border attacks in northern Kosovo in recent years, both countries’ leaders are locked into back-and-forth accusations over who had stoked those tensions.

The EU’s Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, Miroslav Lajčák, is currently in Pristina to discuss a draft statute of the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities in northern Kosovo – a key requirement for Pristina, which insists that obligations for both sides should be implemented in parallel – and other issues.

The visit is “to follow up on the recent meeting with European leaders in Brussels and the need for full implementation of the Agreement on the Path to Normalization without delay or preconditions,” Lajčák wrote on X.

“We also agreed on next steps,” he added, without giving any details.

During a trip to the region last week, von der Leyen told Kosovo to establish an association of its Serb majority towns and pushed Serbia to deliver “de-facto recognition” of the independence of Kosovo, which Belgrade still considers its province.

The demand for a ‘de facto’ recognition of Kosovo in the form of full normalisation of relations is a bitter pill for Belgrade. Serbia, which still sees Kosovo as its territory, has vowed never to recognise its independence.

“It’s a different thing to prepare the ground [for recognition], there are some steps that make recognition work overtime like car plates and external representation,” an EU senior official told reporters earlier this week.

“Full recognition is the last point of the process, and we are a long way away from that,” they admitted.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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