Von der Leyen calls for end to border tensions between Serbia and Kosovo – POLITICO


BELGRADE – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took advantage of a tour of the Balkans to call for a reduction in tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, which are embroiled in a bitter border dispute over the license plates. ‘registration.

Late Wednesday, reports emerged from the Kosovo side that a draft deal had been reached to end the feud. But there was no immediate confirmation of an agreement from Serbia.

“I must say that I am very concerned about the current crisis,” von der Leyen said Wednesday afternoon at a press conference with Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Pristina.

“It is important to defuse and return to the negotiating table to find a lasting solution. The only way to achieve this is through dialogue facilitated by the EU. It is the only platform to resolve the current crisis, ”said von der Leyen, whose visit was originally aimed at promoting EU enlargement along the bloc’s southeast border.

“We have come a long way, we have made a lot of progress, we never lose sight of the objective which is that all the Western Balkans and Kosovo become part of the European Union”, she added.

Serbia and Kosovo are trying to resolve their differences through an EU-led dialogue since 2011. These talks aim to resolve technical issues that have existed between the two neighbors since Kosovo declared independence in 2008 , which Serbia does not recognize, while leading them on the path of European integration.

The EU has also helped the region’s economic development, including a € 3.3 billion COVID-19 stimulus pledge, according to von der Leyen.

However, it was an agreement signed in Brussels in 2016 that led to the latest escalation of tensions.

Kurti’s government sent heavily armed special police to its northern border on September 20 when the validity of UN license plates, which were issued along with regular Kosovo plates, expired.

UN plaques began to be issued after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, when Kosovo was de facto a UN protectorate. After Kosovo declared independence and obtained its own license plates, UN plates continued to be issued in parallel – until last year.

Since Serbia recognizes the UN mandate and not Kosovo, the UN plaques have been preferred by most of those who visit Serbia often, including Serbs and Albanians. Last year, under a clause in the 2016 agreement that provided for the expiration of plates in 2021, Kosovo stopped issuing UN plates.

The northern region of Kosovo is where the majority of the Serbian ethnic minority resides. As a result of the dispute, hundreds of Kosovo Serbs camped along the border, blocking roads leading to the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings.

“There is a crisis on the border between Kosovo and Serbia because Serbia does not want to accept that beyond Jarinje and Brnjak there is another country,” Kurti said at the press conference with von der Leyen.

According to political scientist Agon Maliqi, the Commission President’s tour of the Balkans – which included stops in Albania and North Macedonia on Tuesday, in Montenegro and Serbia after Kosovo, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday – did not not had the calming effect she could have hoped for. .

“Reactions to Von der Leyen’s visit range from indifference to cynicism,” he said, adding that there was “a widely held belief among people that dialogue is not sustainable and that Kosovo can no longer accept the nature of this slow and technical dialogue. that leads nowhere.

In reaction to the measures imposed by Kosovo, Serbian Defense Minister Nebojša Stefanović visited a military barracks near the border with Russian Ambassador Alexander Botsan-Harchenko. Military planes were seen flying along the border on Sunday and Monday and four armored vehicles were dispatched near the Jarinje crossing point.

“For a long time, the integration of the EU and NATO in the region has been held hostage by [Serbian President Aleksandar] Vučić’s tendency for dramatic reactions, ”Maliqi said.

Dialogue in doubt

In Serbia, the decision of the Kosovo government to suddenly demand temporary plaques is seen as a provocation.

“Kurti’s approach is clear: he acts on the fact that Kosovo is an independent and sovereign state and believes that he has the right to act as he does,” said Igor Bandović, director of the Belgrade Center for security policy.

“Vučić struggles with this approach. The fact that Kurti proposed a peace deal between the two in the last round of dialogue put Vučić in a very defensive position, ”he added.

On Wednesday, the heads of the technical teams from Kosovo and Serbia met in Brussels to try to reach an agreement and defuse the situation.

The head of the Kosovo technical team, Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi, told Kosovar public broadcaster RTK on Wednesday evening that a draft deal was reached during the meeting.

He said the deal would see NATO peacekeepers stationed in Kosovo take over from special policing on Saturday, and both sides would lift their requirement for temporary license plates for six months until they ‘a final agreement can be reached.

Bandović said the crisis has stretched the will for dialogue, both of respective governments and the public, close to breaking point.

“The Brussels dialogue is at its weakest point since the start and the credibility of the chief negotiator and the European institutions supporting the dialogue is at stake. It is really up to the EU to do something or encourage it. dialogue, otherwise it will stop, ”he said.

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