Governance and Multilateralism

Serb-Kosovar Relations: Where Are We At?

After 20 years of contention, the two countries still face mutual hostility. As the post-conflict context worsened on the local level, the international community has been increasingly stepping into the negotiation processes. Among the foreign actors involved, great role has been held by the EU for what concerns a potential formal agreement. The other two fundamental actors are the U.S. and Russia who have been backing up respectively the Kosovar and the Serbian sides: the former highly supported NATO bombing campaigns against Serb forces at the end of the Yugoslav Wars; the latter aims at getting a spot in South-East Europe and establish its presence in the region. Despite outside interventions, in recent years the dispute reached a stalemate. One of the most impacting developments has been the draft of the Brussels Agreement in 2013. The main components of the agreement were the creation of the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities in Kosovo (which would serve as a vehicle for Serb autonomy on a higher level), the integration of Serbian “parallel” structures such as the police, civil protection and judiciary in the Kosovo police and judicial system and the commitment of both sides not to hinder each other’s EU integration processes. In the list of 13 points, it is mentioned also the necessity of Serbian presence in both police and judicial establishment in all the areas of Serb majority. [1] The two-page document outlined the basic principles and frameworks of the normalisation process and it served as a foundation for all future negotiations. Even if it represented the very first formal step toward a resolution and it eventually resulted in being largely unimplemented, it contributed to create a practical incentive for both countries at least to settle a communication channel.
Nevertheless, recently there have been two main episodes that represented clear signs of steps forward: the results of the new elections in Kosovo and the appointment of two new U.S. special envoys.
As a matter of fact, on October 6, after 12 years of rule, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) lost the elections in favour of the left-wing nationalist party Vetëvendosje lead by Albin Kurti, one of the most well-known activists for Kosovar independence. The second winning party, the centre-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), has become partner to a broader coalition. [2] Even if the two parties have publicly presented their firm positions toward the construction of an independent Republic of Kosovo, they expressed their willingness to reopen the dialogue with Serbia and to maintain more stable relations. One of the most crucial loose ends, apart from the territorial dispute, is the 100% tariff imposed on Serbian goods by Haradinaj government after Serbia floated the idea of a land swap and lobbied against Kosovo joining international organisations. [3] Kurti ensured that the normal commerce fluxes will be restored, however with the compromise of aiming at concrete and full reciprocity policies between the two countries. [4]
For what concerns instead the new interventions from the Atlantic side, Trump has recently assigned Matthew Palmer and Richard Grenell the roles of envoy respectively for the Western Balkans and for peace negotiations. [5] [6] The two new surprise appointments signal Washington’s renewed focus on solving this frozen conflict and to maintain a clear position in the region. Particular attention has to be given to the figure of Grenell, already U.S. Ambassador to Germany: the proximity to both Trump and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government in Berlin would open a direct line of communication between the Balkans, Washington and Europe. [7]

Even if Kosovo and Serbia continue living in a status of open hostility that could undermine the geopolitical context of the entire region at any moment, the two countries have something extremely strategic in common that none of them intends to lose: the engagement with the European Union, the access to the common market and the possibility to attract new investments. [8] In this sense, great role will be held by Josep Borrell, the new appointed EU High Representative. New developments are to be expected from this side as Borrell has already expressed his intention to revive the current stalled dialogue and to start acting by taking his first institutional visit in the region. [9]





[1]: First Agreement of principles governing the normalisation of relations, available at:

[2]: Giorgio Fruscione, Elezioni in Kosovo: vincono le opposizioniprobabile svolta politica, ISPI, October 7, 2019, available at: 

[3] Misha Savic, Kosovo’s Election Winner Signals Tough Stance Toward Serbia, Bloomberg, October 6, 2019, available at:

[4]: Francesco MartinoIl Kosovo di Albin Kurti, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, October 10, 2019, available at: 

[5]: Judith Mischke, Trump Names Ric Grenell His Special Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, Politico, October 4, 2019, available at:

[6]: Maja ZivanovicSerbia and Kosovo ‘Must Prepare for Compromise Solution’, Balkan Insight, September 18, 2019, available at: 

[7]: Austin Davis, Anila Shuka, Trump Ally Richard Grenell’s Kosovo-Serbia Post A Mixed Bag For RapprochmentDW, October 4, 2019, available at:

[8]: Rosalind Mathieson, Jasmina Kuzmanovic, For Serbia and Kosovo Support Comes With Strings Attached, Bloomberg, October 3, 2019, available at: 

[9]: Andrew Gray, Borrell to Visit Kosovo as EU Foreign Policy Chief, Politico, October 7, 2019, available at: 

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