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EU, France and Germany play down Serbia-Kosovo deal reports

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By Matthew Holroyd  & Milos Milic
The concept of re-drawing borders along ethnic lines has sent shockwaves through the Balkans.
The concept of re-drawing borders along ethnic lines has sent shockwaves through the Balkans.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Zenel Zhinipotoku

The EU, France and Germany have distanced themselves from reports of a deal that would see Serbia and Kosovo recognise each other's sovereignty.

Media reports in Pristina had claimed that Berlin and Paris had led discussions on an agreement between the two. 

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a brutal war between separatist ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces. Belgrade refuses to recognise it and solving this issue is key if either wants to join the EU. 

The deal was reportedly recorded in a "non-paper", an EU term for an unofficial document shared confidentially between governments or institutions.

But Germany’s ambassador to Kosovo, Jorn Rohde, has dismissed the reports as "fake news".

"There might be a paper but it’s for sure not a German-French one," he tweeted on Wednesday.

The French embassy in Kosovo has denied it was involved in the alleged non-paper.

The European Commission has also dismissed the reports.

"In this particular case, the alleged document does not express EU positions and was not received by the European Commission nor the European External Action Service," a spokesperson told Euronews.

Both Paris and Berlin have reiterated their commitment towards EU-led dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

"We fully support the EU mediation and welcome the efforts undertaken in this direction by the Special Representative in charge of the dialogue,” the French Embassy said on Twitter.

What did the reports say about the non-paper?

On Monday evening, the Kosovan daily newspaper Koha Ditore published claims that Kosovo and Serbia would recognise each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty under an EU deal led by Germany and France.

According to the newspaper, an "autonomous district of northern Kosovo" would be created, while the Serbian Orthodox Church would have a "privileged status".

In return, the media claimed that Serbia would not hinder Kosovo’s membership in international organisations, and Kosovo would not impose trade barriers.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, commenting on the rumours, said the non-paper contained sections that would both "please" and "horrify" Serbs.

However, Koha Ditore stated that they had not established whether the non-paper was authentic. Instead, the newspaper had quoted "diplomats" on what would be discussed in the EU-led dialogue, without naming their sources.

Non-papers are, by nature, informal documents which carry no official status or insignia, and can therefore be manipulated.

The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, has said that the appropriate response to a reported non-paper is "no comment".

The issues with non-papers and misleading rumours

The media reports in Kosovo are the second such instance in a matter of weeks.

Earlier this month, rumours circulated that Slovenia had created a non-paper on solving Balkan tensions, proposing that Serbia, Croatia, and Albania would be expanded to swallow up parts of neighbouring Bosnia, North Macedonia and Kosovo.

It was claimed that the proposals had been circulated across the bloc to European Council President Charles Michel.

Several MEPs and individual countries have strongly voiced their opposition to the ideas supposedly outlined in the document.

But the office of Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša refused to confirm or deny those claims to Euronews. 

The European Commission also said it had not received any such non-paper.

Slovakia’s ambassador to Bosnia has said that these misleading reports of non-papers could cause "significant damage" to the EU’s collective image in the western Balkans.

On Monday, the United States also noted that there had been “recent unwarranted speculation” about borders changes in the Balkan region.

This "risks fostering instability in the region and evokes memories of past tensions," the US Secretary of State said in a statement.

"A stable, prosperous future for the Western Balkans must be based on good governance, rule of law, multi-ethnic democracy, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

"The United States is committed to supporting the countries of the Western Balkans on their path to European integration and membership in key European and Euro-Atlantic institutions."