Cambridge University professor, Marc Weller, in an interview for the Gazeta Express, spoke about the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue process, the last high-level meeting in Brussels and the Franco-German proposal.

Besnik Velija

GE: Professor Weller, you have been a solid friend of Kosovo for a long time. Are you advising the Kosovo government once more, on the normalization dialogue in Brussels?

Professor Weller: In addition to being a Cambridge Professor I am a barrister in the UK. Under the rules that apply to barristers, we are not allowed to discuss who may or may not be a client. I can confirm, of course, that I have indeed been a long-time friend of Kosovo’s, ever since President Rugova asked me to help around 1987 or 88. I attended the Rambouillet Conference, helped support the Ahtisaari final status process that allowed Kosovo to be come a widely recognized, independent state, and offered contributions to the drafting of its constitution and several laws. So I have never refused to be there for Kosovo when asked. However, as in this interview, I do not of course claim to speak for Kosovo or have the authority to represent its views. I am offering my thoughts entirely from my own, personal perspective, having had over thirty years of experience on the issue of Kosovo in international diplomacy. After all, I wrote the book Contested Statehood, which offered the main arguments supporting Kosovo case for independence, also in the International Court of Justive!

GE: Again, it is said that you previously advised President Thaci, and that you are now advising Prime Minister Kurti?

Professor Weller: This really is a confusion one often encounters in Kosovo. If you are advising a government, you are taken to have been signed up by a political party in Kosovo to work with them and for them, and only for them. True, a party leader may hire an individual to be his or her personal advisor, or even legal counsel, for instance in relation to criminal charges. But this is not the case where the role of legal advisor to the state is concerned. I am engaged by many governments around the world to work as an advisor for the state. This is never taken as a personal appointment to the benefit of a particular politician or party.

In my kind of work, you are not the advisor to any particular person or party, however much you may come to appreciate or admire the individuals you then work with. The role is that you are the advisor to the state. And the state continues, even if its democratically elected leadership changes. This advice has to remain consistent, whichever party is in power. Similarly, the position of Kosovo has to remain consistent over time.

GE: Well, then speaking as what we might call a well-informed academic observer, what is you assessment of the Basic Agreement that was discussed in Brussels?

Professor Weller: The agreement offers many things Kosovo wants and needs. In essence, it clarifies that Serbia and Kosovo will conduct their mutual relations in the manner of sovereign states, according to the principal of the UN Charter, even if they do not yet formally recognize one another as states. Serbia will no longer oppose Kosovo’s membership in any international organization. The sides will recognize their respective official documents, like passports. They will even establish permanent mission, which are essentially embassies without using that term. These are all very major concessions from Serbia.

GE: Yes, but there is no actual recognition from Serbia?

Professor Weller: And nobody expected Serbia to suddenly turn around by 180 degrees and formally recognize Kosovo. However, the Basic Agreement provides, as its title makes clear, a ‘path’ towards full normalization of relations. Full, comprehensive normalization expressed in a legally binding way is the official aim of the entire Brussels process. The Kosovo government has succeeded in having it made entirely clear that this includes, in the end, formal recognition. There have been important assurances in this direction and the present government should be given credit for having achieved these. This started with the letter from US President Biden, requiring that the normalization process must be ‘centered on mutual recognition’ over a year ago.

Germany launched its joint initiative with France based on its own experience—the 1972 Basic Treaty between East and West Germany which became the basis of the present agreement with some additions and omissions. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz affirmed: ‘It is clear that an agreement must ultimately also clear up the question of the recognition of Kosovo, because it is not conceivable that two countries that don’t recognize each other become members of the EU.’

This summer, the EU parliament, which is one of the EU institutions to which the EU Facilitators in Brussels are accountable, formally confirmed that this process remains focused on reaching ‘a comprehensive, legally binding normalization agreement based on mutual recognition.’

For Kosovo it is of course important to ensure that this initial first step, in a sense moving towards de facto recognition, is followed by the second step, the actual recognition as a matter of law. The present Basic Agreement is meant to lead to the legally binding agreement on comprehensive normalization, but it does not in itself fulfil the requirement of such comprehensive normalization that must preceed Serbia’s accession to the EU—the second step still needs to follow on from the first. And it must do so in a reasonably short time-frame.

If it is clear that there can be no full, comprehensive normalization in the absence of eventual recognition, it is also clear that no state can enter the EU if it maintains territorial claims against its neighbours. There can be no prospect of Serbia entering the EU while it claims that all of Kosovo, a sovereign state recognized by over half the world, is part of its territory. As the EU parliament put it so clearly in its resolution of the summer: ‘Serbia must respect the full integrity and sovereignty of all neighbouring counties and must refrain from influencing their internal political affairs.’

GE: Is this Basic Agreement now binding upon the parties?

Professor Weller: The present status is as follows. Both parties have accepted the text of the 11 Articles and Preamble of the Basic Agreement. That text can no longer be questioned, negotiated or changed. In fact, Kosovo offered to sign that text now, which Serbia refused.

The Agreement will contain an annex that is meant to ensure implementation of all its provisions. That annex remains to be negotiated. Once that annex is agreed, the entire instrument, the Preamble, 11 Articles and the provisions on implementation, can be signed.

There is some debate on whether all of the 11 Articles will enter into force immediately upon signature by the Parties. Some suggest that Kosovo should first perform some obligations, before others become activated. This is meant to build confidence among the Parties.

I would guess that Kosovo will insist that all 11 Articles enter into force upon signature, but that it is ready to agree a sequence of implementation steps where one element might follow upon another in a balanced and clearly timed way. To agree the choreography for this sequencing is very much the function of the implementation provisions.

Of course, building confidence takes two. It does not make sense to insist that only Kosovo has to perform certain obligations first, before others can be implemented. There has to be a balanced approach, showing that both sides are willing to advance their mutual relations. Kosovo has long-standing issues and requirements, backed by binding international commitments and demands, that have never been addressed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *