The (potential) road to comprehensive normalization between Belgrade and Pristina

Beograd - Pristina; Photo: EPA / Valdrin Xhemaj

The new research “From Technical Negotiations to Comprehensive Normalization – Relations between Belgrade and Prishtina” was presented in Belgrade by the Council for Inclusive Governance, supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. The research is based on interviews that the research team conducted with various interlocutors in Kosovo and Serbia.

Evaluating the current process of normalization, the authors first and foremost emphasize different and opposing expectations that both sides have from the dialogue. While on the one hand, Belgrade expects “everything but recognition”, for Kosovo “normalization is recognition”. Hence, those “irreconcilable differences over Kosovo’s status” are regarded as the key obstacle to the process of normalization.

Also, both sides have conflicting interests for engaging in the normalization process. For Serbia, the main purpose is to improve its economic situation and relations with international community by putting its Kosovo problem to an end, while Kosovo’s key objective is gaining recognition from Serbia and five remaining EU states, along with the integration of the Serb minority. Membership in the EU is identified as their only common stated goal.

The Brussels dialogue is indeed recognized as the main driver of the normalization process, however the authors point out the need to end an era of ambiguity and to start negotiating agreements that are more specific, with clear timelines for implementation.

Thus, the report offers a very clear overview of the agreements signed until now that are divided into two groups: agreements concluded in 2011 as part of the so-called “technical negotiations” and fifteen-point agreement reached in 2013. Nevertheless, the implementation of the agreed is years behind schedule and it has proved to be more complicated than the negotiation process, with some very divisive topics such as the Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities.

Yet, the research team identified several steps on both sides that could lead towards reaching an agreement on comprehensive normalization, along with the list of topics that should be incorporated in it. In Serbia, a call for an internal dialogue, despite its all deficiencies, is seen as an opportunity to find a lasting solution of dispute between Kosovo and Serbia. At the same time, in Kosovo, some parties have been calling for an internal dialogue with Kosovo Serbs that could be a chance for tackling a still present distrust between the two communities. And finally, the report calls for “keeping promises” approach, in other words it underlines the need to ensure a full implementation of the Brussels agreement. For Serbia it means the implementation of the energy agreement and for Kosovo establishment of the Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities.

Finally, the researchers conclude their findings suggesting changes in EU approach to the dialogue – for instance giving visa liberalization to Kosovo as an indicator of credible EU integration prospects – but also calling for more transparency in the process on the one hand, and on the other incorporating topics such as travel documents, education or reconciliation into the comprehensive normalization agreement.