Author: Gianna Merki
Pristina has witnessed in recent months several protests of the main opposition party in Kosovo – Vetëvendosje (Self-determination) against the Brussels Agreement, especially its part on the Association of Municipalities with Serb majority. Within the scope of normalization of relations both parties signed this agreement in 2013 and the guidelines regarding the Association where established in an agreement from August 2015. The Kosovo Constitutional Court which suspended the deal on the Serb Municipalities in November might now rule over the constitutionality of the Associations’ principles in the upcoming days.
The stalling in the implementation of this Association certainly compromises the future of the Pristina – Belgrade relations, as well as Kosovo and Serbia individually and their relations internationally, especially with the EU. Both Kosovo and Serbia aspire towards EU and full normalization between them is expected by Brussels on that path. Given that the Association of Serb Municipalities might be the only way for consolidation of this part of the Balkans and the political relations within, the EU should not slow down its effort to help bringing the two sides to terms on the issue.
The exact shape of the Association is not decided in detail although some facts are known – It is to be a legal entity with its own statute under the Kosovo Law comprised of the Serb majority Municipalities in Kosovo which would have powers over several aspects of governance as economic development, education, healthcare and town planning. On the other hand, these municipalities should accept Kosovo’s legal system by closing down the Serbian parallel structures in these Municipalities.
The goal is not to create a separatist region within Kosovo but to negotiate the integration of the Serbian Municipalities under the Kosovo framework. Visiting Kosovo two weeks ago given the political unrest, John Kerry US Secretary of State clarified that “we would not support any agreement that would threaten the sovereignty, security and independence of Kosovo”.
The implementation would allow for the inclusion of the Serb majority Municipalities, especially the North, in the Kosovo’s system – which they de facto are not yet. This would benefit not only the ethnic Serbs – which could maintain to certain extent ties to Belgrade which however shall not exceed technical and financial assistance but also the Kosovo administration by bringing the North closer to the integration in so planned multi-ethnic state of Kosovo which so far has not been fully implemented in practice but only on paper.
Parallels drawn between the Association and the Republic of Srpska case in Bosnia and Herzegovina are fallacious. The former is a stronger administrative entity within a state and its background context is different – it was formed right after the wars in 1995 and Serbs are legally seen as a constituent people, while in Kosovo they are an ethnic minority. The association is not foreseen to be a republic nor have such an extent of powers or authorizations nor would it even be an autonomous province within Kosovo, but have autonomy only in certain fields. Kosovo government stated in August 2015 that the Association will not have any executive powers.
The Serb Municipalities in Kosovo, namely the ones in the North are, as said, not fully integrated in the framework of Kosovo still having their parallel institutions. Stating that the Association would create a destabilized state of Kosovo is disregarding the current structure of non-integration and non-stability. Rather have the Municipalities within Kosovo’s system, with special rights within an association, than not to have any integration at all.
The purpose is to solve a problem that exists – the non-integration of the North under the Kosovo framework and to do this compromise is needed. The meaning of negotiation resides in parties making concessions in order to achieve a solution. When declaring independence in 2008 Kosovo should have already foreseen/prepared for the hardships in dealing with Northern Kosovo given the homogeneous Serb majority living within the borders of the territory claimed independent.
Should the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina fail over the integration of Serbs into Kosovo system through the association, consequences can be negative for all concerned.
Serbia might lose interest in the process of normalization relations with Kosovo and even divert its attention away from its EU perspective, as the gridlock with Pristina can slowdown the EU talks. On the other side, Kosovo might remain isolated and dysfunctional, and in such conditions its current instability could deepen and worsen.
The implementation of this agreement especially in what regards the Municipalities seems also to be the only solution for the future of Kosovo as a state. Changing the previously declared borders or disregarding the North as part of Kosovo would be far too complex from the international point of view since many states already recognized Kosovo with its declared borders including this part of its territory. Also recurring to violence to integrate the North communities should certainly not be an option.
Whether with more or less autonomy the association seems like the best option for all stakeholders providing a clearer delimitation and consolidation of Kosovo, consequently its potential broader recognition in an international sphere and normalization of relations with Belgrade and with the EU.