Western Balkans and EU News
04.09.20 | Opinions

[Opinion] Kosovo and Serbia agreement in Washington: Much ado about nothing

By Daniel Serwer

Washington, dtt-net.com - President Trump today claimed to have done what no one else has ever done before: negotiated an historic agreement between Kosovo and Serbia.

 This is false. History is littered with agreements between Serbia and Kosovo, many of them unimplemented or only partially implemented. The more technical agreements culminated in the 2013 Brussels agreement on normalization, which among other things acknowledged that Serbia and Kosovo would qualify for and accede to the European Union separately, each at its own pace. That was an implicit recognition of Kosovo sovereignty, since only sovereign states can accede to the EU.

 The agreement signed at the White House today is nowhere near as dramatic as that. It is basically an agreement to agree on a series of economic steps that some think will eventually lead to progress on the political front, with a few bells and whistles added for Trump glitter purposes. The economic steps are good ones, as far as they go. But they are unlikely to transform the relationship between Serbia and its one-time autonomous province, now an independent state recognized as such by about 100 other states but not a member of the United Nations.

 If there is any big news in the announcement today, it is that Israel has agreed to recognize Kosovo, which must really gall President Vucic as Serbia has long cultivated its relationship with Israel. The other, modest news is a mutual one-year moratorium: Kosovo agrees to suspend its effort to enter international organizations in exchange for Serbia agreeing to suspend its "de-recognition" campaign. That is renewal of an earlier agreement on a shorter timeline.

 Serbian President Vucic explicitly rejected recognizing Kosovo during the talks at the White House. This move came when the Americans, who had repeatedly pledged to focus the White House meetings exclusively on economic issues, put in front of him a draft containing recognition language. He dismissed it out of hand and in public. I hope no one in the Administration expected anything different.

 It may even have given Vucic some political room to agree on the economic issues, which are however a bit a yawn. The first part is just promises to implement existing transportation border agreements. Then comes joining "mini-Schengen," which is still more aspirational than actual, and mutual recognition of diplomas and professional certificates, which I believe has been agreed in the past but I'll have to check. Then comes a non-agreement to work with the US Department of Energy for arrangements GazivodaLake, again more aspirational than actual for now.

 Switch channels to things Washington insisted on: blocking Huawei provision of 5G, tougher airport screening, and commitment to freedom of religion as well as implementation of judicial decisions on church property (which is a reference to a longstanding dispute over the quiet zone around Decani monastery in Kosovo). Plus decriminalization of homosexuality and treating all of Hizbollah as a terrorist group.

 Along the way there is a pledge to work on missing people from the 1999 war and its aftermath, something that should have been done long ago and has been pledged many times. It is a human issue, not an economic one, but the more explicit language hopefully portends more implementation than in the past.

 I am not seeing President Vucic's signature on the document. I hope it is there. If not, this isn't really an agreement but rather an unilateral pledge by Kosovo, which would make this an even less impressive achievement.

 It's okay, but a long way short of historic. One might even say, much ado, about nothing.


(Daniel Serwer is professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and director of its Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs, as well as a Scholar at the Middle East Institute. This opinion of his was first published at his blog: peacefare.net)


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of dtt-net.com.

04.09.20 | Opinions