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Wider Europe Briefing: The Obstacles Still Remaining To A Serbia-Kosovo Deal; EU Steps Up Military Aid To Georgia, Moldova

The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, on March 18 in Ohrid as he met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, on March 18 in Ohrid as he met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

Welcome to Wider Europe, RFE/RL's newsletter focusing on the key issues concerning the European Union, NATO, and other institutions and their relationships with the Western Balkans and Europe's Eastern neighborhoods. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL Europe Editor Rikard Jozwiak, and this week I'm drilling down on two major issues: the deal struck between Serbia and Kosovo, and how the EU is stepping up nonlethal military support for Georgia and Moldova.

Brief #1: Will The Serbia-Kosovo Deal Really Be Implemented?

What You Need To Know: Late on March 18, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced a deal had been struck between Serbia and Kosovo after a full day of talks in Ohrid, North Macedonia. What the two parties in fact had agreed on was an annex, which was meant to spell out the sequences and timetables of the implementation of an agreement struck between Belgrade and Pristina on February 27.

While the February deal did not entail Serbian recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, it did suggest ways of tackling some of the many obstacles that have dogged relations between Kosovo and Serbia ever since the former's declaration of independence in 2008.

In particular, the February deal calls for the mutual recognition of documents and national symbols, such passports, diplomas, license plates, and customs stamps. The two parties would also exchange permanent missions, not block each other's path to the EU, and Belgrade pledged not to object to Kosovo's membership in any international organization. In exchange for this, the branch of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo would have its status formalized.

The February deal also gives backing to the creation of a Serb-majority association of municipalities in Kosovo without mentioning this association by name. Instead, the text just noted the setting up of "an appropriate level of self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo and ability for service provision in specific areas, including the possibility for financial support by Serbia and a direct communication channel for the Serbian community to the Government of Kosovo."

Deep Background: In many ways, the agreement and the accompanying annex, if implemented fully, could form an important building block toward full normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, providing in effect de facto recognition of Kosovo, if not de jure, and push both countries closer toward their stated goals of EU membership.

There are, however, three broad issues here:

Firstly, neither the annex nor the agreement is signed, which cast doubts about its real validity. Secondly, there isn't much of a sequencing spelled out in the annex beyond the need for Kosovo to start working on the Serb-majority association of municipalities "immediately." And thirdly, there isn't much of a threat for either side if things remain unimplemented. As one diplomat dryly remarked to me after the announcement that a deal had been made: "The carrots aren't particularly tasty, and the sticks aren't hard enough."

Drilling Down

  • The issue of whether a signature is needed or not will continue to dog this process. Serbian President Alexander Vucic clearly spelled out that he won't sign any documents and dashed the hopes that initially did exist in Brussels that the deal would be signed at last week's EU summit with all EU leaders in attendance.
  • The initial Brussels agreement, the first one struck by the parties back in 2013, was also not signed but at least it was initialed by both sides. Speaking to RFE/RL after the meeting, the EU's chief negotiator, Miroslav Lajcak, said that any speculation about whether the deal is or isn't valid is "meaningless" and claimed that the document is official and binding through the announcement made by Borrell in Ohrid.
  • Lajcak also admitted that it was only possible to agree on 12 points in the annex but that there were a further six that they couldn't reach consensus on. As mentioned above, it is stated that Pristina should start working on the creation of the Serbian association of municipalities immediately, but there is nothing concrete on when, for example, the mutual recognition of passports or exchanges of missions should happen.
  • Will Pristina really jump first without any guarantees that Belgrade will take any reciprocal steps? Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti can credit his rise to the pinnacle of Kosovar politics for having been against the creation of any entities based on ethnicity within the country, often citing the need to avoid political blockages similar to those seen in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
  • The chief negotiators of both sides are due in Brussels for talks starting on April 3. This should offer the first indication if the deal is, indeed, workable. All eyes will also be on how Serbia behaves internationally in the coming months. The agreement notes that Belgrade pledges not to object to Kosovo's membership in any international organizations. The first likely test of this will be the run-up to the Council of Europe summit in Iceland in mid-May -- an organization that Kosovo for a long time has sought membership in and that Serbia so far has resisted.
  • The main issue will, however, remain how to cajole the two sides to start implementation. The annex calls for the creation of a joint monitoring committee, chaired by the EU, within 30 days. But there is nothing about what power this committee will have or who will sit on it. The annex also notes that "any failure to honor their obligations from the agreement, this annex, or the past dialogue agreements may have direct negative consequences for their respective EU accession processes and the financial aid they receive from the EU."
  • This may sound tough, but it isn't. Kosovo is not even recognized as an independent state by the EU and probably won't be anytime soon. It is behind every single European country wanting to join the club. Serbia's EU accession talks have ground to a halt due to its failure to align with Brussels politically over the war in Ukraine. So, neither of them is poised to join the club in the upcoming years, and the EU has so far also proved to be reluctant in cutting EU cash to the countries of the Western Balkans for fear of losing out to China and Russia in the region.

Brief #2: EU Stepping Up Military Aid To Georgia And Moldova

What You Need To Know: While the EU has been busy providing Ukraine with weapons to the tune of 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) -- a sum that will increase by a further 2 billion euros in the coming months -- the bloc is also quietly preparing to aid Moldova and Georgia militarily, even though the sums, compared to what is given to Ukraine, are rather modest and the aid to both so far is of the nonlethal variety.

According to diplomats familiar with the discussion who aren't authorized to speak on the record, the proposed assistance measures for both Tbilisi and Chisinau come amid worries within the bloc of Russia's destabilizing efforts against both countries. They also insist that the attempt by the EU to get more involved is natural, as both countries applied to join the bloc last year, with Moldova becoming an EU candidate country together with Ukraine in June and Georgia a potential candidate.

Finally, it is also noted that while not competing with NATO -- which the EU still regards as the main security supplier on the continent -- the bloc is trying to become more of a player in terms of security throughout the European continent.

Deep Background: Last week, representatives of the 27 EU member states started discussing the concept notes produced by the EU's diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service (EEAS), on how the bloc can assist the two countries. The idea is to give a green light in the coming weeks and that the projects envisaged in both papers will be implemented within the next three years.

Seen by RFE/RL, both concept notes state that the purpose of the aid is to enhance Georgia and Moldova's "operational effectiveness, accelerate compliance with EU standards and interoperability, and thereby better protect civilians in crises and emergencies."

The money should come from the European Peace Facility (EPF), the same off-EU budget vehicle that Brussels now is using to supply arms to Ukraine and that doesn't require unanimity, as member states are allowed to "constructively abstain" -- meaning that they can wave a proposal through but not actively vote for it. Both Georgia and Moldova received funds from the EPF before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, but in much smaller quantities meant to finance smaller projects.

Drilling Down

  • The proposal for Moldova is worth up to 40 million euros, with the biggest focus on getting the country ground-based mobile long-range surveillance radar, which will be provided by the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI). The radar purchase is significant as Russia in recent months has fired missiles through Moldovan airspace to hit targets in Ukraine.
  • Other items that the EU pledges to provide include communication equipment, IT hardware and software, buses, forklifts, and pickup trucks. While clearly not providing lethal equipment that might be desired by Chisinau, EU officials I have spoken to believe that the investment will boost the Moldovan military, which last year had a budget of 85 million euros.
  • In the Georgian plan, worth 30 million euros, modern trailers and trucks are also on the agenda -- just as with Moldova -- but here there is an increased emphasis on heavy equipment transporters and cranes. The EU will also provide vehicles that will support the mobility of the Georgian defense forces' field artillery communication systems.
  • Other investments include a medical treatment facility (MTF) with updated equipment, which will complement the already existing couple of MTFs that the EU so far has funded, as well as equipment for Georgia's new Cyber Security Bureau.
  • Unlike Moldova, which is military neutral, Georgia is a NATO aspirant country, meaning that the military alliance has indicated as far back as 2008 that the country one day can join the alliance. While no indication that a NATO invite is forthcoming for Tbilisi anytime soon, NATO and its member states have invested heavily in the country's military in recent years.
  • Starting in 2014 and enhanced last year at NATO's Madrid Summit, the main instrument of military support for the South Caucasus republic remains the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package (SNGP) to which up to 20 countries, including the United States, have contributed with know-how, equipment, and cash in 13 various areas, including air defense, maritime security, strategic communications, cyberdefense, and intelligence-sharing, often via the NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center that was established in 2015 to improve the capacity of the country's army.

Looking Ahead

On March 27, the Hungarian parliament will finally vote in favor of Finland's NATO accession protocol after several delays in recent months. The Turkish parliament also had an initial discussion about ratifying Helsinki's bid last week, and it is now expected that they, too, will ratify before the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections slated for May 14. This also means that Finland in all likelihood will join the alliance before Sweden, as neither Hungary nor Turkey has signaled that they are ready to green light Stockholm's bid yet. It is, however, expected that Sweden could join the club in the run-up to or at NATO's summit in Vilnius in July.

On March 28, the EU's energy ministers meet in Brussels. One of the decisions they will take is to prolong the voluntary goal to reduce gas usage in the bloc by 15 percent until March 2024. The current proposal ends at the end of the month and was enacted last summer as the EU faced soaring energy prices due to Russia cutting most westward gas flows. Despite being criticized at the time for not being binding, gas consumption in the 27 EU member states fell by nearly 20 percent between August 2022 and January 2023 due to the mild winter and various energy-saving measures. The goal of the EU is to have gas storages filled to 90 percent by November to get through the next winter.

That's all for this week. Feel free to reach out to me on any of these issues on Twitter @RikardJozwiak or on e-mail at

Until next time,

Rikard Jozwiak

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

About The Newsletter

The Wider Europe newsletter briefs you every Tuesday morning on key issues concerning the EU, NATO, and other institutions’ relationships with the Western Balkans and Europe’s Eastern neighborhoods.

For more than a decade as a correspondent in Brussels, Rikard Jozwiak covered all the major events and crises related to the EU’s neighborhood and how various Western institutions reacted to them -- the war in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, the downing of MH17, dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, the EU and NATO enlargement processes in the Western Balkans, as well as visa liberalizations, free-trade deals, and countless summits.

Now out of the “Brussels bubble,” but still looking in -- this time from the heart of Europe, in Prague -- he continues to focus on the countries where Brussels holds huge sway, but also faces serious competition from other players, such as Russia and, increasingly, China.

To subscribe, click here.

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