Ceremony in the Oval Office; Photo: Twitter / @jeffmason1

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti pledged to normalize economic relations on 4 September, signing an agreement in the presence of US President Donald Trump in Washington. However, issues such as what exactly was signed, what are the consequences of this agreement for Belgrade and Pristina, as well as what is the future of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue that is being conducted in Brussels, have remained unresolved.

Instead of economic cooperation, the provision concerning the relocation of the Serbian embassy to Jerusalem, which opposes the EU’s foreign policy, and the mutual recognition between Israel and Kosovo attracted the most attention.

Assistant professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade Milan Krstić explained that Belgrade and Pristina have not signed a legally binding agreement in Washington, or any bilateral agreement, either with the United States, as claimed by Serbian government officials, or with each other, as Richard Grenell suggested.

“A political document was signed, a legally non-binding statement of will which assumes certain political obligations. Formally, legally, it is not an international document. This does not mean that the document does not have political weight and political implications, especially having in mind the place where the document was signed, which is the White House “, Krstić pointed out in EWB Screening show.

Executive Director of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE) Marko Savković stated earlier for EWB that it is still being discussed whether this agreement is actually an international agreement that produces obligations.

“I think this is a kind of declaration of will, or political commitment to this administration, not the next one. We will see whether Biden will insist on the agreement sponsored by Grenell. However, there are points that will be interesting to him or “his people”, which represent a reflection of broader and long-term American interests – in the field of energy security (diversification, less reliance on Russia) and cyber security (5G technology, less reliance on China)”, said Savković, adding that it is not clear how this will be implemented, and that is why he thinks that we should still wait for November.

On the other hand, Krstić pointed out that even if Trump does not win the elections, the spirit of the agreement will remain.

“The agreement is not formally legally binding even now, so nullity in the formal legal sense is not an issue either. In essence, politically, I do not believe that the spirit of the agreement will be annulled, and it implies economic cooperation and economic rapprochement between Belgrade and Pristina. And that element will be something that the Biden administration would use and insist on. After all, economic integration was not invented by Trump,” said Krstić.

Going against the EU?

Shortly after the meeting in Washington, the EU warned Serbia and Kosovo that their decision to move their embassies to Jerusalem could undermine their EU membership prospects.

According to EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Peter Stano, the embassy move goes against the official policy of the EU which states that the status of Jerusalem has to be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians and that it should be part of the peace negotiations between the two parties.

“There is no EU member state with an embassy in Jerusalem”, stressed Stano.

He added that Kosovo and Serbia’s decision to open and move their embassies to Jerusalem is not aligned with EU’s common position on Jerusalem.

“Since Kosovo and Serbia identified EU accession or EU integration as their strategic priority, the EU expects both to act in line with this commitment, so the European perspective is not undermined,” Stano highlighted.

Professor at the University of Graz and member of Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) Florian Bieber stated earlier for EWB that Kosovo might be forced to follow through with the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, but Serbia might change its position, depending on who wins the presidential elections in the US in November.

“Overall, I doubt that there will be much left from the agreement”, concluded Bieber.

Apart from the provision on Israel, the document also contains other clauses that are difficult to connect with the process of normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Such clauses include banning the use of 5G equipment supplied by “unreliable suppliers”, diversifying energy sources, and classifying Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. However, these clauses may be linked to the political activities of members of the Trump administration.

Krstić explains that the Israel clause was set for the needs of Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidential elections in November.

“It served him for the needs of the inner public. Nor is it a question of the embassy in Jerusalem, the attitude towards Hezbollah, the 5G network, the diversification of energy sources or the decriminalization of homosexuality in connection with the relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The primary goal was to achieve short-term benefits for the needs of the campaign for the US presidential elections”, said Krstić for EWB Screening.

Concrete results

As for immediate issues in Serbia-Kosovo relations, Kosovo agreed to a one-year moratorium on seeking membership in international organizations, while Serbia agreed to also suspend the campaign against Kosovo’s recognition for a year, which took effect immediately.

Both sides agreed to implement the railway and highway agreements from February, as well as open and manage the joint Merdare crossing.

Also, Belgrade and Pristina will join the “mini-Schengen” zone, which Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia declared in October 2019, and will take full advantage of it. In addition, the signatories will mutually recognize diplomas and professional certificates.

Serbia and Kosovo pledged to speed up efforts to locate and identify the remains of missing persons, but also to identify and implement long-term, lasting solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons.

Krstić said that economic normalization is something that everyone should stand for.

“It is something that is good for ordinary citizens, it is in their interest. This is a good development opportunity for the economy, both for Serbia and for Albanians in Kosovo, and we often forget that it is in the interest of Serbs in Kosovo too,” underlined Krstić.

Bieber said that he believes that neither Serbia or Kosovo have gained a lot in Washington, but that it was much more of a win for Trump and for Israel.

“Kosovo gained one recognition, by Israel, and both sides got the moratorium on Kosovo seeking membership in international organisations for Serbia, and for Kosovo, Serbia stopping the derecognition campaign. This is all very modest and the economic side is just a set of declarations, without concrete goals and timelines. Unless there is a follow-up it will be of little significance”, stressed Bieber.