In mid-March, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti negotiated for nearly 12 hours during a summit in North Macedonia’s Ohrid. The outcome was positive, and the EU praised it. It defined the deadlines for implementation and the establishment of a new EU committee that will monitor the implementation of the deal reached in February in Brussels.
The summit was facilitated by the European Union and backed by Washington. It is part of the agreement which aims to normalize ties between Belgrade and Pristina. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak had a constructive meeting with both leaders before the tet-a-tet meeting started. Several days before Ohird, the leaders had phone calls with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who stressed the importance of both sides being constructive. The normalization of Kosovo-Serbia relations is essential to strengthening security In the Balkans. Furthermore, during the summit, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, visited Ohrid. Despite facing opposition from home, President Vucic argued an agreement between the two sides was necessary for a number of reasons. They include:
Political stability: Improved relations between Serbia and Kosovo can contribute to political stability in the region, which is crucial for the overall well-being of both nations. It is essential for Serbia and Kosovo to have good relations for several reasons, including political stability, economic development, regional security, and the promotion of a peaceful and inclusive society. A stable political environment is necessary for the proper functioning of democratic institutions and the protection of human rights.
Economic development: Good relations can foster economic cooperation, trade, and investment between the two countries, leading to greater prosperity. This can result in job creation, increased trade, and a higher standard of living for citizens of both nations.
Regional security: The Balkans have a history of ethnic tensions and conflicts, and unresolved disputes can lead to instability and potential violence. By fostering good relations, Serbia and Kosovo can help to maintain peace and security in the region, ensuring a safe environment for their citizens and neighboring countries.
European integration: Both Serbia and Kosovo aspire to join the European Union (EU). The EU has made it clear that progress in normalizing relations between the two countries is a prerequisite for their respective accession processes. Good relations can help both countries move closer to EU membership, providing them access to the benefits of being part of a more significant political and economic block.
Social cohesion: By promoting good relations, both countries can work towards healing the wounds of past conflicts and fostering understanding and tolerance among their diverse communities. This can help build a more inclusive society and prevent the resurgence of ethnic tensions in the future.
International reputation: Good relations between Serbia and Kosovo can enhance their international standing and credibility, allowing them to play a more prominent role in regional and global affairs. This can lead to stronger diplomatic ties, increased foreign investment, and more significant influence on the international stage.
As a leader, Vucic has focused on maintaining peace and stability in the region, particularly in the context of the ongoing Kosovo dispute. His approach has been characterized by pragmatism and a willingness to engage in dialogue. Still, he also said, “Normalisation for me is not a euphemism for de facto or de jure recognition of Kosovo. Normalization that I consider necessary is to have better relations with Albanians than we have today and to live together as much as possible and, if not, next to each other”. After the summit in Ohrid and President Vucic’s insistence, we are hopeful that the creation of an association of ethnic Serb municipalities by Kosovar authorities will happen. It will secure protection for the Serbian minority in Kosovo, which has been there for centuries.
Keeping in mind the circumstances, the war in Ukraine, pressure from Russia, and public sentiment in Serbia regarding Kosovo, president Vucic has shown great responsibility and willingness to sacrifice his temporary popularity for to improve life in Serbia and the whole region long-term. We can be hopeful that this kind of politics will secure a European future for Serbia and foster additional economic growth that Serbia has already experienced under Vucic’s leadership. His government has been credited with implementing economic reforms that attracted foreign investment and boosted employment. Connectivity in the region is also one of his priorities as well as the EU. We expect the EU to reward these proactive politics with new infrastructure projects. In addition, the Open Balkans Initiative, spearheaded by Vucic,remains open for Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. It has already given good results in boosting tourism and business cooperation between Albania, Serbia, and North Macedonia.