Serbian president aims for EU membership in 2026.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said Friday that Kosovo peace talks must resume despite war crimes charges filed against Kosovan President Hashim Thaçi.
In an interview with POLITICO in Brussels, Vučić signaled he would still be willing to meet with Thaçi if Kosovan leaders chose to make him part of their delegation for future talks. But he said he did not believe they would do so.
Prosecutors at a special tribunal said on Wednesday they had filed charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against Thaçi — a veteran leader of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority — and others. A judge is reviewing the indictment to decide whether to confirm the charges, which allege that the group is responsible for nearly 100 murders and that the victims of their crimes include Kosovo Albanians, Serbs, Roma and members of other ethnic groups.
News of the indictment scuppered plans for talks on economic cooperation between the two sides, led by Vučić and Thaçi, at the White House on Saturday.
Vučić, in Brussels for meetings with EU leaders, said he would not comment on the indictment itself. But he made clear he wants an EU-sponsored dialogue on relations between Belgrade and Pristina, which has been stalled for more than a year, to get going again. The EU has signaled it aims to restart the dialogue next month.
“We don’t want to ignite further political or physical clashes between Serbs and Albanians and also it’s the best way to protect the safety and security of the Serbs living in Kosovo,” Vučić said when asked about the indictment.
“We need to resume our dialogue process with whomever the Albanian side will pick as their representative,” he said. “It has to go on. Otherwise, what might happen? What would be the perspective of an entire region?”
Asked if he would meet Thaçi if he is involved in the talks, Vučić said: “It’s not up to me. I can always say I am not going to speak to someone who is indicted for war crimes but it’s not me that will choose the Albanian leadership, it’s up to their people.”
The EU-backed talks aim to reach a permanent settlement between the two sides, more than two decades after the end of the 1998-1999 Kosovo war. The war culminated in a NATO bombing campaign to stop Serb repression of ethnic Albanians that also ended Belgrade’s rule over Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but Belgrade continues to regard the territory as a rebel province. With the support of its ally Russia, it has prevented Kosovo from joining the United Nations and other international organizations.
The EU has made clear that a permanent settlement is a prerequisite for either country to become a member of the bloc. Serbia has been in EU membership talks since 2014; the bloc classes Kosovo as a potential candidate for membership.
Vučić said his aim was for Serbia to become an EU member in 2026, having wrapped up talks in 2024. Such a scenario is likely to be seen as optimistic by at least some EU diplomats. In 2017, the European Commission suggested Serbia and its neighbor Montenegro could join the EU in 2025 but that goal proved unrealistic and is no longer mentioned by EU officials.
Asked if he had any doubts about the aim of EU membership and might prefer instead to be close to the bloc without joining it, Vučić replied: “We would like to be a member of a club, to tell you the truth.”