4.4.2013. Balkan Insight, Serbian Deputy PM Blamed for Kosovo Stalemate

Balkan Insight, 4.4.2013.

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While Alexander Vucic is in the spotlight over the failed talks with Kosovo, broader disunity on the Kosovo issue within Serbia’s ruling coalition has also been blamed.

While the clock is ticking for Serbia to accept the deal it has been offered on Kosovo by next Tuesday or lose its EU accession talks start date, Aleksandar Vucic, Serbian deputy prime minister and leader of the ruling Progressive Party, has been blamed by the EU for the collapse of crucial talks with Kosovo on April 2.

The eighth round of talks was expected to succeed and the EU believed that shuttle diplomacy and numerous meetings would yield results.

“But Vucic messed it up,” an EU diplomat told Balkan Insight.

The same diplomat said the debate between the Kosovo and Serbia teams became heated, with Vucic at one point raising his voice at Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

Asked at a press conference in Pristina on April 3 whether Vucic had called him a “snake”, Thaci said only: “I am proud of my past.”

He was referring to his past in the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, when he was given the nickname ‘Snake’ for his skill in evading the Serbian police.

The Pristina daily newspaper Koha Ditore suggested that Vucic came “emotionally unprepared” for the dialogue.

Vucic reportedly became so agitated that he offered his resignation to Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and urged the Belgrade delegation to quit the talks and leave Brussels.

Borislav Stefanovic of the opposition Democratic Party, who was Serbia’s chief negotiator in the former government, called the behaviour of the Serbian delegation unprofessional and undiplomatic and recalled how he had responded when heading the talks with Kosovo.

“The Kosovo delegation were swearing at me and telling me their version of history but I still always acted diplomatically,” Stefanovic told Balkan Insight.

Dusan Janjic, director of the Belgrade-based Forum for Ethnic Relations, said introducing new people to the talks had been a mistake.

“When you suddenly shift from bilateral talks between prime ministers to two delegations, then [the new] people feel a need to legitimise their political views and go back on some issues which Dacic and Thaci had already dealt with,” Janjic said.

Vucic was invited by the EU, in the hope that would be as cooperative as he was following the May 2012 elections. He has shifted from a hardline nationalist to a moderate and pro-EU position. In the eyes of Brussels and Washington, he was the most cooperative man in the government.

In February, he travelled to Berlin to meet German officials and Bundestag members to discuss Serbia’s readiness to begin talks with the EU and its willingness to “normalise” relations with Kosovo.

The latest round of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue was also seen as crucial for Serbia, as a positive outcome will have an impact on whether Serbia obtains a start date for membership negotiations in June.

Serbia obtained EU candidacy in March 2012. The European Commission will recommend whether Serbia should open negotiations on April 16.

While some experts directly blame the failure on Vucic’s presence, others say the breakdown reflects continuing disunity within Serbia’s ruling coalition on the sensitive Kosovo issue.

Borislav Stefanovic said the government didn’t tell the truth. The failure of the talks “showed that there is no unity”, Stefanovic told Balkan Insight.

The Serbian delegation had differing stances over what was acceptable, although previously they acted as unified front in public. Dacic has been in constant phone consultations with Vucic, informing him on every step, in previous rounds of talks.

This raised suspicion that Vucic undermined the talks to score points at home for populist reasons and weaken Dacic ahead of possible elections or a government reshuffle.

Jelena Milic, director of the Belgrade Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, told Balkan Insight that the biggest obstacle to reaching a deal was the lack of political unity on Kosovo within both Vucic’s Progressive Party and Dacic’s Socialists.

Milic noted that both Dacic’s interior ministry and Vucic’s defence ministry have long been centres of resistance to resolving the Kosovo issue - and to Serbia’s EU progress.

The disunity among top Serbian officials visibly angered EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, according to the EU diplomat, who suggested that the EU’s work was done and the talks were over.

“This is the last time we will meet formally,” Ashton said after the failed meeting on Tuesday. However, she added that “both sides will go back and consult with their colleagues in the capitals and they will let me know in the next few days of their decision”.

Political science professor Predrag Simic believes that Washington may now become more involved and push through a deal.

“Washington does not want to repeat the mistake it made with Dayton [peace accords on Bosnia in 1995],” Simic told Balkan Insight, referring to the dysfunctional settlement that has since hobbled Bosnia’s progress.
The United States has already been involved in the talks. The US deputy assistant secretary of state Philip Reeker met with Dacic and Thaci during each of the eight rounds in Brussels.

Stefanovic believes that the US will do its best to push through a deal. “Don’t get surprised if you see Reeker in Belgrade in the next few days,” he told Balkan Insight.

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Judges and military hold up Kosovo deal

Kosovo and Serbia on Tuesday agreed on the formation of a multi-ethnic police force in the Association of Serbian Municipalities, an EU diplomat told Balkan Insight.

The eighth round of talks in Brussels failed to yield an agreement on the judiciary and on the presence of the Kosovo military in Kosovo Serb areas, however.

According to the EU diplomat, the Serbian delegation insisted on Serb-run first and second-instance courts operating in the Association, which would function under the overall jurisdiction of the Kosovo Supreme court.

The Kosovo delegation insisted on regular Kosovo courts operating there, with mixed panels of judges based on ethnic quotas.

Serbia also opposed the idea of the Kosovo military potentially being stationed in Kosovo Serb communities.

According to another source close to the negotiating teams, Belgrade wants the Association to become a constitutional factor, which cannot be changed without a vote of the Serbs themselves. “They also want the Association to have uninterrupted links to Serbia”, the source told Balkan Insight.

Naim Rashiti, from the International Crisis Group, in Kosovo, said he expected the Association to have “full autonomy in fields like education, health and urban planning.”

At the same time, he suggested it would function asymmetrically.

“It’s likely that a mechanism that’s more powerful in the north and with weaker links to Serbian municipalities in the south of Kosovo will be established,” Rashiti told Balkan Insight.