European Western Balkans

Serwer and Bieber: Washington Agreement not a major step towards normalization, will be forgotten in US soon

Kosovo-Serbia White House signing ceremony; Photo: Twitter / AIEmbassyUSA

MITROVICA – The Washington Agreement does not have any novelty value, because number of its points have already been addressed in the EU-led dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, said Florian Bieber, professor at the University of Graz and member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG). The agreemenent is not a major step towards normalization and will be forgotten whoever wins the upcoming US elections, claims professor at the Johns Hopkins University Daniel Serwer.

During the webinar debate organized by the Mitrovica Social Club titled “Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Process: A Triangle of Constructive Ambiguities”, Daniel Serwer and Florian Bieber discussed the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations in Washington and Brussels and focused on the agreements reached, as well as the implications of the presidential elections in the United States for the region.

Discussing the implications of the Washington agreement for Serbia and Kosovo Daniel Serwer said that the Agreement does not represent a major step forward in the relations between Pristina and Belgrade. He added that that, despite the very low level of interest of the American public, the Agreement is widely seen as an important tool in Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

“A political settlement at this point does not seem feasible because there is no “appetite” for it on the Serbian side but an economic agreement is a good strategy”, Serwer said, and warned that it might have negative consequences for Kosovo and Serbia’s relations with the EU.

Talking about the implications of the Agreement for the relations between the EU and Serbia and Kosovo, Florian Bieber pointed out that the Agreement contains a number of points which the EU had agreed with Serbia and Kosovo years ago, such as mutual recognition of diplomas and highway construction projects some of which have already been built with EU funds. Bieber added that there are aspects of the Agreement which contradict some of the EU policies, such as the infamous decision of Kosovo and Serbia to open and move their embassies to Jerusalem.

“The movement of embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be going against the EU policy on this matter. This is particularly a problem for Serbia, which is already far from aligned with the EU foreign policy”, he added.

Bieber also emphasized that the lack of a united position of the US and the EU, as the most important political actors, could undermine the stability in the Western Balkans, and could potentially increase the leverage for authoritarianism in the region.

Both panelists claimed that the Washington agreement did not get much attention from the public, and that it was not taken seriously by policy makers.

“This agreement will be forgotten very quickly in the United States, either in the Biden or in the Trump administration”, Serwer emphasized.

Similarly, Bieber added that it is no surprise that the Agreement did not get much attention of the international public.

“There has been an EU-led dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo for ten years now, so it [the Agreement] really has no novelty value”, Bieber said.

Arguing that the Agreement was “ill-prepared”, Bieber emphasized that it contains very vague and unclear provisions.

“The deal for the sake of a deal ends up being very slim”, he added.

Daniel Serwer said that Serbia is not likely to join the EU in the upcoming period, explaining that its democracy has deteriorated, even though it has been working on adapting to the EU acquis.

“It is very hard for me to picture the EU accepting Serbia in its current deteriorated democracy. I don’t think this President of Serbia is the one who is going to qualify Serbia for membership in the EU”, Serwer warns.

Bieber agreed that even if it were to resolve the problem with Kosovo, Serbia would still be fairly unprepared for joining the EU, mainly because of the authoritarian tendencies of the current regime in Belgrade.

Lastly, the panelists agreed that, in the absence of a full agreement, both Serbia and Kosovo could live with the status quo. Bieber added that the problem for Kosovo is less the nonrecognition by Serbia, and more the nonrecognition by others.

“If Kosovo and Serbia cannot find a way to normalize their relations, Kosovo has to develop its own foreign policy not relying on the US as its only pillar, and visa liberalization would be really important for Kosovo”, Bieber pointed out.

Serwer agrees that Kosovo does not have to resolve issues with Serbia right away, and it can live with the current conditions.

“Kosovo has to learn that sovereignty means dealing with your own issues as a real priority. The time might not be right for a comprehensive solution with Belgrade right now”, he added.

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