Macron Pressures Kosovo’s Kurti to Make Progress on Integration

(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron leaned on Kosovo’s premier to step up efforts toward European integration, telling the Balkan leader that he needs to make progress in offering a degree of autonomy to the country’s Serb minority.

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In a phone call late Tuesday with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Macron said Kosovo must make “rapid and irreversible progress” in granting Serb-dominated municipalities some autonomy, according to a statement from Macron’s office. He tied the step to Kosovo’s ambition to join the Council of Europe, a 46-member group that promotes democracy and human rights.

While the US and European Union have pressed Kurti on Kosovo’s Serb minority, particularly the establishment of an Association of Municipalities for the Serb population, it hasn’t been a condition to join the Council of Europe. Kosovo moved a step closer to the body last week when its parliamentary assembly approved a recommendation to join.

Kurti thanked Macron for France’s “unwavering support” for Kosovo and urging the country to back its Council of Europe membership “without further preconditions,” according to a statement on social platform X.

Serbia, which refuses to recognize the sovereignty of its former province, has fought against international recognition of the country. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, nearly a decade after a war ended with Yugoslav troops forced out of its territory.

Macron’s foray comes after he met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Paris earlier this month. Vucic sought French support in developing nuclear energy plants and a potential purchase of Rafale fighter jets. The Serbian leader said a deal on jets could emerge in coming months.

It wasn’t the first time the French leader has leveraged pressure on Kurti. Macron abruptly signaled last year that France may block an EU offer on visa-free travel if Kurti didn’t return to the negotiating table with Serbia. The deal, which had already been finalized, still went into effect on Jan. 1.

Vucic’s government has pushed hard to ensure Kosovo isn’t admitted to the Council of Europe, going as far as threatening to bolt the organization if it goes forward. The decision now rests with the body’s foreign ministers, who will meet in May to decide.

But Serbia’s ambitions to join the EU rely firmly on normalizing relations with Kosovo. EU and US negotiators have tried and failed to make progress on that account, with tensions in the region intensifying — particularly after a cross-border raid in late September nearly put the two sides on war-footing.

Much hinges on the association, the thrust of Macron’s demand. Initially agreed on in 2013, it’s aimed at granting local Serbs more autonomy. But Kosovo’s top court later found discrepancies, prompting Kosovo’s subsequent governments to balk at implementation.

--With assistance from Jasmina Kuzmanovic and Misha Savic.

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