PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The head of the European Union’s executive branch on Wednesday called on Kosovo and Serbia to resolve their disputes through the dialogue and deescalate the recent tension over license plates.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, to meet with senior leaders as part of her regional tour before an EU-Western Balkans summit on Oct. 6.
“It is vital that Kosovo and Serbia normalize their relations,” she said at a news conference with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti. “The EU-facilitated dialogue … is the only platform to resolve the current crisis.”
Representatives of the two countries were meeting Wednesday in Brussels, facilitated by the EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak.
Last week, Kosovo’s government deployed special police forces to the border crossings to impose a new rule of removing Serb license plates from cars coming into the country, saying that a 10-year-old deal had expired. Pristina said they were replicating what Serbia had done for the last 10 years.
Kosovo Serbs blocked the border with trucks and people could only pass it on foot. Serbian military jets and helicopters have been flying close to the border with Kosovo in an apparent show of force.
“We understand it’s not only a question of license plates,” von der Leyen said. “We all know that it’s more it’s a question how this region will move forward and whether we are going to be able to go together, the path toward integration and towards our European values here.”
Kurti has repeated the offer that both countries drop the temporary license plate rule as a solution.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has demanded that Kosovo first withdraws all special police at the border before launching the EU-mediated negotiations.
The EU, NATO and the U.S. have urged Kosovo and Serbia to exercise restraint and refrain from taking unilateral actions.
Von der Leyen is visiting the six Balkan countries to assure their future is in the EU.
The Western Balkan countries — Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are at different stages on the EU membership path. The bloc’s stalled interest in enlargement and years of diplomatic turmoil with Britain over Brexit are some factors delaying their progress.
“I am a staunch supporter of the process of enlargement. I want the Western Balkans by our side. That’s where you belong. We want you. We need you,” she said.
Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.