Tariffs the immediate obstacle to negotiations, border change still a possibility

Mitrovica Bridge

MUNICH – While the issue of border correction is still hanging in the air, the tariffs imposed by Kosovo’s Government now seem to be the hot topic and the biggest stumbling block of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. One thing that is certain is that the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia will be much harder to reach than the Greece-North Macedonia name change agreement.

These are the main impressions from the short interviews Politico has done with the region’s leaders – President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi, Prime Minister of the country Ramush Haradinaj, as well as Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović – on the sidelines of this year’s Munich Security Conference, during which Vučić and Thaçi participated on a panel dedicated to the relations of their respective countries.

According to Vučić, the only thing preventing him to resume the dialogue in Brussels are the tariffs imposed by the Government of Ramush Haradinaj last November.

“I thought that he was irresponsible but not that irresponsible”, stated President of Serbia.

Reflecting on the example of Greece and North Macedonia, which have resolved their most difficult bilateral issue in the past several months, Vučić said that their situation cannot be compared to the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

“It is 100 times more difficult”, he stressed, adding nevertheless that a final deal has to be reached. “Otherwise, we’ll face a catastrophe”, he concluded.

Adding to the strained relationship between Belgrade and Pristrina, the issue of tariffs has also caused divisions among Kosovo’s authorities. While President Thaçi has advocated for a softer approach, Prime Minister Haradinaj regards recognition from Serbia as the condition sine qua non for their discontinuation, Politico reminds.

Despite their apparent disagreement, Thaçi underlined that Kosovo is speaking with a unified voice: “Everybody’s for dialogue, for negotiation, and for the agreement”, he said.

According to the President of Kosovo, the Government should listen to the advice of United States and the EU when it comes to the tariffs (both have urged it to revoke them).

However, Haradinaj remains uncompromising when it comes to the tariffs, his opposition to the correction of borders, as well as his demand for Serbia’s recognition.

“Recognition should be coming as an apology for tragedies caused to our country, our people,” he said, referring to the 1990s conflicts.

He also criticized EU High Representative Federica Mogherini for not excluding the possibility of border change, which, according to him, harmed the region, as well as the EU.

President Đukanović agreed that the idea of border change has got a certain level of legitimacy from the international community, but also emphasised that everybody should be very careful when introducing such a proposal to the region of Western Balkans.

He reminded that, after North Macedonia, and hopefully Serbia and Kosovo, which he also sees as a “tougher nut to crack”, another issue will remain in the region – Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“We will have to deal with Bosnia in a much more serious way … with a wider range of participants,” he concluded. “It will be very complicated to find a formula for Bosnia.”