Let’s look at things from a positive perspective. The title of the agreement is economic normalization between the two countries, as president Trump reiterated, several times, I think. Its content would certainly be different if it were an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo that without the need for an intermediary, but that was not the case. Given that the two countries have no diplomatic relationship and Serbia fears that non mediated agreements with Kosovo would be seen as its recognition as an independent state. That’s why intermediaries, patrons, allies and enemies are needed. And they all have their vested interests. The Washington agreement benefits American interests as defined by the current administration.
This is both good and bad. It is good because the US will be interested in seeing the agreement executed, and it’s bad because some of the commitments the two sides made belong to the realm of unilateral foreign policy decisions or bilateral agreements with a third party. Since the nature of those commitments will not vanish after this agreement, as already seen in the case of relations with Israel, we are yet to see which parts of the agreement are actually going to be enforced.
Nonetheless, the key thing is that the US has not only backed, but actively pushed for the process of normalization between Serbia and Kosovo that should eventually lead to a legally binding agreement on the normalization of relations, not only economic, but political as well. That would make the task of the EU negotiators much easier. The fact that this agreement confirms (implicitly, of course) the territorial integrity of the two countries is also a positive trait. This marks a return to the process that was abandoned two years ago when Thaçi and Vucic signaled plans for a deal on territorial exchange. There was some speculation at the time that such a deal was backed by the United States, so there’s no harm in refuting this. Finally, it has been suggested that complete normalization of relations will occur in one year’s time, when Kosovo should become a full member of the international community. This, however, depends on all permanent members of the UN Security Council, but that is an entirely different subject.
Is economic cooperation in the interests of Kosovo and Serbia? By the nature of things, Kosovo’s stakes are higher than those of Serbia. It is a smaller, less developed, landlocked economy sharing a long border with Serbia. The Serbian market is very important for the development of the Kosovar economy. And it is in Serbia’s interest to support Kosovo’s development not only to increase its export, but to strengthen all kinds of ties between the two countries. One can’t rule over the territory, so to speak, but it is possible to exert influence in a way that avoids dispute and conflict.
The agreement signed in Washington didn’t identify any areas of cooperation or development projects that haven’t already been, in one way or another, covered by various EU initiatives for strengthening regional cooperation, from infrastructure projects to the regional free trade zone (CEFTA). So far, the success hasn’t been great, but perhaps this time will be different if both sides truly want it to be. There could, admittedly, still be problems with financing the construction of roads and railways and everything else if the rules of the European Union and the deals that Serbia and Kosovo have with the EU are broken. After all, the agreement insists on competition, and not on bilateral affairs in its points concerning energy import and internet usage, and the same will be asked when it comes to implementing development projects. But those are neither unusual nor unknown issues. And anyway, infrastructure projects, particularly such ambitious ones, will require years.
The deal strengthens the law and rights in articles on religion, on rights of the Serbian church, on rights of Holocaust victims and rights of homosexuals. Some of these are legal issues and some are political, but all issues that both sides agreed to should be in their mutual interest. It remains to be seen how this will be implemented.
Most commentators concur that the content of the agreement is in line with Trump’s election campaign and that the agreement is in fact aimed at winning over American voters of Serbian, Albanian, and Jewish descent to vote for Trump. It’s not much of a revelation to say that politicians take their election prospects into account when making decisions. However, I can’t tell which voters exactly Trump is supposed to be targeting with this agreement? We can’t know if the Democrats, were they in power, would demand that we align our relationship with Hezbollah with the US stance, and we know they wouldn’t ask Serbia to move its embassy to Jerusalem, which is not to say that Biden will move the US embassy back to Tel Aviv if he wins the election. But if the goal is to increase the number of American Jews voting for Trump, it’s pretty unrealistic. Americans of Serbian and Albanian descent certainly won’t change their pick because of this agreement, which is below their expectations.
All these speculations are in fact unnecessary. For economic and even more so for political reasons, American interests are permanent when it comes to energy and technology markets, and to the suppression of terrorism, and it’s no surprise these issues made their way into this agreement mediated by the United States. It is key, however, that the United States has backed the process of normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo with the goal of reaching a comprehensive legally binding agreement, which is what the efforts of the EU are aimed at. Initially, it seems, by a “two Germanys” model, and later through establishing diplomatic relations.
This is not my area of expertise, but the way I see it, it’s hard to deny international legal obligations assumed by the president of the state no matter what the Constitution of Serbia says. It is not uncommon also, at least in America, for contracts and laws to have articles seemingly unrelated to their main subject but which are in the interest of a mediator, as in this case. Indeed, both the manner in which the agreement was concocted and its content look as if it was hastily improvised, but that doesn’t change its binding force.
Translated by Milica Jovanovic