Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov, left, with his Kosovo counterpart Enver Hoxhaj
Whether you are in to bat for Priština or a member of Serbia’s Kosovo-is-not-a-country camp, the process of watching the fledgling state developing the framework of bilateral and multilateral agreements that long-established countries take for granted is a fascinating one.
This is, of course, true for all new countries, whether born through consensus or amid controversy. Seventy-five countries, Bulgaria among them, deem Kosovo to be an independent state and so the hard work of putting in place detailed agreements is underway. It is a task more complex than renting an embassy, running up a flag and getting on to the diplomatic circuit with those countries who see you as a sovereign state, not a renegade province.
Kosovo’s foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj was in Sofia on June 27, meeting his counterpart Nikolai Mladenov, putting pen to paper on items that will develop into the customary canon of bilateral relations.
Mladenov, speaking after talks with Hoxhaj, described relations with Kosovo as intense and pledged Sofia’s continuing support for the establishment of Priština’s institutions.
At the same time, Mladenov emphasised that facilitation of dialogue between Belgrade and Priština is a major foreign policy priority for Bulgaria.
Hoxhaj said that Kosovo lacked a visa liberalisation agreement with the European Union – a situation that arises from the fact that the 27-member bloc is officially status-neutral on Kosovo, given that five EU countries do not recognise Kosovo as independent – with Mladenov responding that Kosovo had a need for tight border controls and a stable judicial system.
Mladenov said that Bulgaria had as a priority the EU integration of all its neighbours, given that this was in the country’s strategic national interests, and would continue to work with Kosovo as well as other Western Balkans neighbours to remove obstacles to their EU integration.
Agreements between Bulgaria and Kosovo were signed, a protocol on co-operation between the foreign ministries of the two countries and an inter-governmental agreement on international road transport of passengers and cargo. The latter agreement will also serve as a step forward towards a regular bus line between Bulgaria and Kosovo, in turn facilitating trade.
Friends and neighbours
Hoxhaj has his work cut out, engaging both with envoys of states that endorse Kosovo’s independence and the prickly process of engaging with states that do not – notably Belgrade itself, with which the process of dialogue continues, a process for which there is stated support from influential members of both camps.
Shortly before his journey to Sofia, Hoxhaj received a visit from his Czech counterpart, Karel Schwarzenberg, who brought a message of support from Prague for Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic prospects.
Meeting his counterpart from Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, Hoxhaj heard the message that Luxembourg would be providing 27 million euro in projects to support the young state.
Earlier in June, Philip Gordon, US assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, whose country was among the first to recognise Kosovo, issued an assurance to Hoxhaj of Washington’s continued support and assistance for Kosovo’s people.
"Kosovo is a stable state, independent and multi-ethnic and technical dialogue will reduce the differences between Kosovo and Serbia," Gordon said.
Those talks were not, as ever, without their complication as Belgrade huffed indignantly at Priština for making public the contents of deals that were expected to be reached.
As reported by Serbian news agencies, Belgrade talks team head Borislav Stefanović declined to comment on reports of expected agreements.
"It is very bad to talk about the details of something that is yet to be agreed on," Stefanović said.
"The essence is to have the main interests of both sides coincide. If that does not happen, there can be no agreements," he said, declining to speak about the items on the agenda that could be "closed" in a meeting expected to be held in early July.
He said that agreements reached would be implemented – but not signed. "Signatures would imply equality of two states, and as Kosovo is not a state to us, there will be no signing. They will be implemented by the two governments with the help of the EU," Stefanović said.
Whatever becomes of the process in the near future, while the talks are described as on "technical" issues, no issue is a small one. Just one of the issues to be resolved is how to find a way to agree on lifting Belgrade’s trade blockade of Kosovo, a matter about which there was some hope that a resolution could be achieved at a CEFTA meeting in early July.