Merkel, Macron found it difficult to convince Kosovo, Serbia to resume talks

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) attends the video conference with leaders of Kosovo and Serbia, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Paris, 10 July.

Kosovo and Serbia agreed to resume EU-backed normalisation talks, at a video summit on Friday, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the official re-starts of talks in Brussels between Serbia and Kosovo, scheduled for Sunday, has been postponed for next week, BalkanInsight reported.

Statements from Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar PM Avdullah Hoti after the video conference made it clear that the two sides remain far apart, dpa pointed out.

A source in the Elysee Palace said the two leaders had agreed to meet again by video summit on Sunday, followed by a meeting in person in Brussels on Thursday. The talks will be steered EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and the bloc's special representative for the process, Miroslov Lajcak, but Merkel and Macron will remain closely involved, the source said.

Both sides had committed to proceed “stage by stage,” the source added, acknowledging that the recognition of Kosovo was “the main difficulty” in the way of a “final, binding agreement.” Hoti, in a statement released after the summit, said that the talks must lead to the mutual recognition of Kosovo and Serbia. Pristina also wants Belgrade to stop campaigning against it joining international organisations, notably the United Nations, where Serbia’s ally Russia has been blocking its membership.

Pristina ruled out a proposal, floated by Vucic two years ago, of a territorial exchange involving a Serbian-populated area of northern Kosovo.The Elysee source said that a territory swap was “not on the agenda” for the talks, but local devolution inside Kosovo was one of the issues that the parties could agree to discuss. Hoti seemed to rule out any major concessions on autonomy, however, saying that Kosovo's "internal legal organization cannot be affected."

Vucic told Serbian state broadcaster RTS that the talks had been “difficult” with Serbia “the only one standing on a different position." “The Albanian side came forward with demands, we wrote them down carefully,” he said.

The talks came despite domestic difficulties in both countries. It was Hoti's first time representing Kosovo. President Hashim Thaci pulled out as he is due to face questioning by war crimes prosecutors in The Hague on Monday over alleged atrocities in the 1998-1999 conflict.

Belgrade, meanwhile, saw angry protests this week after Vucic announced a weekend curfew, later amended to a ban on gathering of more than 10 people, to halt a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

The Elysee source said the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo was important for all of Europe, as it was "a question of security and stability in a sensitive region." Friday's summit showed the EU was taking the leadership on the issue despite the influence of outside powers such as China, Russia and Turkey in the region, the source argued.


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