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Ambassador Petritsch: In the Coming Months Serbia and Kosovo Are Expected to Reach an Agreement

"Armedia" IAA presents an exclusive interview with Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch, acting President of Marshallplan Foundation and the President of the Herbert C. Kelman Institute for interactive conflict transformation in Vienna. Ambassador Petritsch was the EU's Special Envoy for Kosovo (1998-1999), EU chief negotiator at the Kosovo peace talks in Rambouillet and Paris (1999), and then High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (1999- 2002).

- How would you assess the current situation around Kosovo? In the near future can we see the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia and other sides, which are negotiating on the agreement of normalization of the relations?

- I believe that right now the situation between Belgrade and Pristina is such that an agreement is to be reached in the course of the next couple of months. There is now a window of opportunity of a peaceful solution, because the EU has reengaged in the Balkans and there is going to be a summit organized in Bulgaria in May, where all the Balkan states are going to participate in order to dynamize, revitalize and speed up all the open questions around the wars in the former Yugoslavia. I think that the sides are now ready for peaceful solution, as Serbia will be thus able to join the EU and for Kosovo it is prospect to join the United Nations. So both are getting something and this is positive. However, we will see what happens, this time I hope it will work.

- Will Serbia recognize Kosovo or this agreement does not guarantee such a thing?

- Recognition is very difficult decision to be taken. But there is a model: East and West Germany which for long time did not recognize each other but then they started in 1970s to negotiate a basic treaty which could be a successful model for Belgrade and Pristina. 

- Now we are witnessing current disagreement between the US and EU member states concerning several issues like Paris Climate agreement, Iran nuclear deal, etc. What do you think, will this disagreement deepen or will they be able to overcome it?

- The American President has very individual style of governing, he decided to withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement, for example, and other controversial issues as well, but I am optimistic that these problems will be overcome, as relations between Washington and Brussels are most important ones in times that new players as China are rising and becoming competitor in so many ways which means we need Europe in itself, we need to strengthen its structures, and it has to revitalize relations with the US. I'm optimistic that Washington will understand that Europe has always been and now it is its most important partner and it will be in the future such as well. Because only in the US and Europe there is democracy, liberal society and free trade which will be able to influence other parts of the world as well.

- And what about the relations with Russia?

- Since the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass the relations has been deteriorated with Russia and I am less optimistic in this direction. I believe that more talks and more dialogue will be necessary here, but this depends on President Putin and his government's readiness to be open to discussions and to take steps towards resolving issue of Donbass. But Russia is a very important neighboring country of Europe and I really hope that the relations will be improved in a longer term.


- How do you assess the process of Brexit and is that a sign that it is time for some changes in European Union?

Two very important issues: Brexit negotiations are well underway, but unfortunately I think it is very negative for both sides losing such an important country, but this was decided by democratic referendum. I hope that after UK leaves the EU the close economic trade relations will be restored. On the other hand, because of the fact that now the EU loses very important partner, it will have to adapt, to reform itself, to deepen integration process. We have overcome rate crisis with euro, with banking system and so on, this has successfully been tackled, also some of the EU states, as Greece, Spain, or Portugal have overcome with the help of the EU and massive amounts of finances given to these countries in order to stabilize. Hopefully this is now behind us. We'll have to move towards establishment of common Finance Ministry so that finances of the EU are being ''unionized'', pulled together.

Europe has about 550 million inhabitants, which slightly more than the third of population of China. It tells you how important it is that EU really becomes united. Now that Merkel has been re-elected in Germany and pro-Europe Macron took power in France, I hope and I believe and I'm convinced that these two big countries will be instrumental in moving forward the reform process in the EU. And this is pre-condition for taking new member states like Serbia i.e., and precondition to play an important role in relations with China, India, and also, of course, the United States.

- According to you which are the main three challenges of the EU right now?

The immediate challenge is successfully overcoming the divorce from UK. The second important issue is the reform of the EU institutions. And the third big issue for the midterm is the successful integration of six Western Balkan countries. But of course I am not forgetting also foreign relations. I think we need to try hard to improve relations with Russia, and EU needs to contribute to resolve conflicts in South Caucasus, and in Georgia, in Ukraine as well. Europe can be a very constructive partner. Europe is not a military power, so it always counts on negotiations, on compromise, on trying to find solutions which people profit from.

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