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Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness Ashton Of Upholland, GCMG

And Then What?

The Brussels Agreement laid the foundations for both Belgrade and Pristina to develop their relations, and gave them space to discuss their ambitions for the future ~ Catherine Ashton

Baroness Catherine Ashton, a British politician and former High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who led the discussions that resulted in the signing of the First Brussels Agreement on the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina a decade ago, recalled the dialogue that preceded the signing of the Agreement in her recently published memoir And Then What? Inside Stories of 21st-Century Diplomacy.

Her insider’s insight into the world of diplomacy provides readers with details of the months-long efforts to persuade political leaders from our region to reach agreement, by reminding them of the historical events and then-current political circumstances that had brought to the stage Hashim Thaci, Ivica Dačić and Tomislav Nikolić, and ultimately Aleksandar Vučić. as the last to join the negotiations and the man who continues to lead them to this day.

In the year marking the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Brussels Agreement, this agreement is being consigned to history only partially fulfilled. It has been replaced by a new agreement, also reached in Brussels, under new circumstances and with new partners who are convinced that this new agreement will provide a permanent resolution to relations between Serbia and its breakaway southern province. However, commenting briefly on the fate of the agreement that was reached under her supervision, Lady Ashton tells CorD Magazine that she doesn’t think it has been forsaken. “I always knew that implementing the agreement would be difficult, and it was in any event only the first step”.

Her book also features numerous other testimonies regarding events that she participated in as the then head of European diplomacy, including her particularly interesting and timely recollections of the dialogue on bilateral relations between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine.

I am looking forward to the results of the latest initiative and the meetings taking place between Kosovo and Serbia. I wish them well and continue to believe that the future of both lies in the EU

Baroness Ashton, who will also go down in history as the last Brit to head EU diplomacy – given that the UK withdrew from the Union not long after she concluded her term in Brussels – recently joined the Eurasia Group, an international think-tank devoted exclusively to helping investors and business decision-makers understand the impact of politics on the risks and opportunities in foreign markets.

Lady Ashton, you entitled your memoir ‘And Then What? Inside Stories of 21st Century Diplomacy’ Could you tell us something about this intriguing title, which is actually a question that you’ve often posed in your conversations with world officials?

I called my book “And Then What?” because it summed up what I tried to consider when I was in office, and what I have thought about since I left.

WITH BORIS TADIĆ, THEN PRESIDENT OF SERBIA, FEBRUARY 2012

We need to think about the future, and what might happen as a result of events. Considering the long term should become a more central part of how we approach crises and issues.

The Serbian public is interested in your recollections of the talks that led to the signing of the Brussels Agreement on the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, precisely 10 years ago. You were then also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Viewed from today’s perspective, do you consider that this Agreement has since been forsaken?

I don’t think it has been forsaken. I always knew that implementing the agreement would be difficult, and it was in any event only the first step. I am looking forward to the results of the latest initiative and the meetings taking place between Kosovo and Serbia. I wish them well and continue to believe that the future of both lies in the EU.

If we were to transpose the question that forms the title of your book onto the Brussels Agreement, we would have to note that the Community of Serb Municipalities, to which six of the 15 points of the Agreement refer, has never been formed and that the dialogue on the normalisation of relations has turned into talks on the recognition of Kosovo’s independence. Does that surprise you?

Moving forward is never easy. I know that Miroslav Lajčák is the right person to help both sides find a way through to their future in the European Union. The “And then What” question is answered by the work he is doing, and the efforts both sides are now making.

I believe the EU is an important geopolitical player. The work done on the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue was led by the EU and supported by the U.S. – It is important that the EU takes a lead where it can, especially in its neighbourhood, while recognising the importance of the partnership with the U.S.

The Brussels Agreement laid the foundation for both to develop their relations, and gave them space to discuss their ambitions for the future. It is good to see that both leaders are prepared to meet and talk and look for answers.

The issue of Kosovo’s membership in international organisations was a frustrating one for you when you were leading the Brussels dialogue. As you write in your book “…the Kosovo side persuaded us to add a sentence saying neither side should block the other’s path to membership of any international organisation”. You considered that to have been a mistake at the time, so – as you write – you “kicked a lot of furniture, furious with myself for even trying to write it down”. Do you envisage Kosovo becoming a UN member state in the near future?

The decision on the membership of Kosovo lies with the membership of the UN. Whatever happens, I look forward to Serbia AND Kosovo being members of the EU.

WITH IVICA DAČIĆ, THEN PM, CURRENT DEPUTY PM AND MFA OF SERBIA, 2013

You wrote that the support you received from Hillary Clinton was significant for you. Today, Gabriel Escobar is supporting current EU Special Representative for the Belgrade- Pristina Dialogue, Miroslav Lajčák. The Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, but also the cases of Ukraine or Iran, can serve as examples to pose a question that you have been considering yourself: has the EU managed to profile itself as a strong geopolitical player or does it still merely follow policies defined by the great powers, primarily the U.S.?

I believe the EU is an important geopolitical player. The work done on the Belgrade- Pristina dialogue was led by the EU and supported by the U.S. – It is important that the EU takes a lead where it can, especially in its neighbourhood, while recognising the importance of the partnership with the U.S.

Speaking at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government recently, you announced that you will be travelling to our region in the nottoo- distant future to discuss, among other things, Serbia’s responsibility and possible roles it could play as a relatively strong country. Do you believe Serbia’s leaders are sufficiently cognisant of the country’s responsibility as a regional leader?

I hope to travel to the region soon, in support of the efforts of both Serbia and Kosovo. I do think that President Vucic and others recognise the important responsibilities that lie with them and their country in the region.

THE BRUSSELS AGREEMENT

I don’t think it has been forsaken. I always knew that implementing the agreement would be difficult, and it was in any event only the first step

MEMBERSHIP

The decision on the membership of Kosovo lies with the membership of the UN. Whatever happens, I look forward to Serbia AND Kosovo being members of the EU

THE FUTURE

We need to think about the future, and what might happen as a result of events. Considering the long term should become a more central part of how we approach crises and issues