Beginning of the “new phase” in dialogue
In July and August 2017, Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thači met for the first time in their new functions as Presidents of Serbia and Kosovo in the context of the dialogue, chaired by the EU Foreign Representative Frederica Mogherini. After the July meeting, both sides announced the beginning of a “new phase” in the dialogue. While President Thači spoke of the agreement of a far-reaching agreement to normalize relations between the two countries as the goal of the new phase, President Vučić spoke of the goal of historic reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians in the Western Balkans. Beyond these very nebulous statements, the actual format such as the content and goals of the new phase of the dialogue initially remained unclear, the negotiations between Mogherini, Thači and Vučić, and their respective teams have been kept under the highest level of secrecy right from the start, with the EU Foreign Representative also largely excluding the governments of the EU member states from the process and from information, disregarding their role. After the summer, President Vučić announced the initiation of an internal dialogue in Serbia, which he himself opened with the publication of an editorial in the Serbian media. However, this did not help to clarify, but rather created additional confusion with regard to the goals and framework conditions. After the summer, President Vučić announced the initiation of an internal dialogue in Serbia, which he himself opened with the publication of an editorial in the Serbian media. However, this did not help to clarify, but rather created additional confusion with regard to the goals and framework conditions. After the summer, President Vučić announced the initiation of an internal dialogue in Serbia, which he himself opened with the publication of an editorial in the Serbian media. However, this did not help to clarify, but rather created additional confusion with regard to the goals and framework conditions.
As it became known, the so-called new phase in the dialogue was actually about the intention to replace the previous, failed step-by-step approach with negotiations on a comprehensive, legally binding agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. In this context, central issues such as mutual recognition and the end of the blockade of the Republic of Kosovo’s membership in international institutions such as the EU and the UN by Serbia should be settled.
According to ENINGBO, the months of waiting before the start of the actual negotiations caused considerable political uncertainty among the political elites and the wider public in Kosovo and Serbia. Political tensions were fueled in particular by the public political “spin” of high government representatives of Serbia, who campaigned for political “solutions” that were and are unacceptable for Pristina and the West: Proposals for the division of Kosovo, with the Serbian-majority north being added to Serbia or exchange of territory between northern Kosovo and the predominantly Albanian region of Preševo in southern Serbia. In particular, the Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić excelled in fueling such ideas.
At the end of March 2018, the tense political mood escalated: as a result of a conflict between the Serbian and Kosovar governments over the participation of high-ranking Serbian government officials in an internal Serbian dialogue event in northern Kosovo, in North Mitrovica, Prishtina refused entry to government officials. When the head of the government office for Kosovo, Marko Đurić, entered Kosovo illegally, he was arrested in an action by the Kosovar special police Rosa at the event in Mitrovica and, after recording his testimony in Prishtina, deported to Serbia. The police action, which reportedly resulted in numerous injuries, was the largest political escalation since January 2017. Nevertheless, there was no major unrest in northern Kosovo.
Proposal to swap territory, between state tensions, collapse of negotiations
At the end of August 2018, the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo surprisingly presented the proposal to swap territory for the first time between Kosovo and Serbia as the core of a comprehensive final agreement. The idea found support from the EU foreign policy representative Mogherini and in a few western capitals, above all in Washington, and temporarily in Paris. However, it met with strong rejection from many European governments, above all Germany, and almost unanimously on the part of the parliamentary parties in Kosovo, who on the one hand refused to undermine the territorial integrity of Kosovo, and on the other hand to the destabilization of the Western Balkans region by making it more ethno-territorial “Solutions” warned. The two presidents never presented a specific plan. What became clear, however, was the idea of adding the mostly Serbian-inhabited north of Kosovo (or at least parts of it) to Serbia, as well as the proposal to
The participation of President Thači in the secret territory swap negotiations led to open conflict between President and Prime Minister Haradinaj, as well as with the majority of the Albanian parliamentary parties, including larger parts of his own party PDK. Thači was suspected of privatizing the interests of the state in order to avoid possible indictment by the Special Court in The Hague. In autumn 2018, the governing parties in parliament, with the support of part of the opposition (PSD), passed several resolutions, which an all-party negotiating team established (VV and LDK, however, decided not to participate) and defined a content-based platform for the negotiations, which excluded border changes.
As a result of the proposals, tensions between Belgrade and Prishtina escalated in autumn 2018, so that the Brussels negotiations came to a standstill. After the Serbian government successfully opposed Kosovo’s membership application in Interpol at the end of November, the Kosovar government decided to introduce 100 percent punitive tariffs on Serbian goods (as well as those from Bosnia-Herzegovina) imported into Kosovo, and on December 14th, this decided Kosovar Parliament to initiate the process of establishing its own army.
The introduction of the tariffs led to massive protests by the Kosovar Serb political leadership, including the resignation of the four Serb mayors in northern Kosovo (although they continued to collect their Kosovar state salaries and started again in the elections that were rescheduled by the government in Prishtina in May 2019, and so officially returned to her office after half a year). President Vučić insisted that there would be no continuation of the Brussels negotiations until the tariffs were withdrawn.
The negotiation process has been suspended since November 2018 and the tariffs remain in force. With a mini Western Balkan summit organized by German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron on April 29, 2019 in Berlin, the Franco-German attempt to restart the stalled negotiations failed. At the same time, however, the revitalized collaboration between Paris and Berlin seems to have finally put a stop to the idea of an area swap. Subsequent efforts between Pristina and Belgrade to agree conditions for the resumption of the Brussels negotiations were made possible by the resignation of the Kosovar Prime Minister announced in July Haradinaj and the new elections for the Kosovar parliament scheduled for October 6, 2019 have been suspended for the time being. As a result of the delayed announcement of the official final results of the elections in Kosovo and the late assumption of office of the new EU Commission on December 1, efforts to resume negotiations in Brussels were suspended for the entire second half of 2019.