RELATIONS BETWEEN SERBIA AND KOSOVO IN THE CONTEXT OF EUROPEAN INTEGRATION
Keywords:Normalization of relations, European integration, Serbia, Kosovo, political conditionality, feasibility study
After wars in which it was included, the Western Balkans region entered the new phase of development after the whole decade of instability. The path towards the recovery of the national and social systems promised a lot, but after anew instability with the murder of the Prime minister of Serbia, and constant political frictions, the region was again in front of a difficult choice. This time, the choince is not between a war and a peace, but between a desire to become a part of the European Union, and a constant stumble in solving the problems that no region, that became a part of the Union, didn’t face. The gola of this work is to analyse technical and political aspects of those processes, so we get closer to the answer why it is so. We are speaking of a process where there are answers to the questions of a cause of consequences, that we can feel even today, as well as to the questions about the European future of the region, shich should have already happened. We are speaking of the process of normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo in the context of European integration.
The Brussels agreement deals with a number of disputed issues between Belgrade and Prishtina, especially the status of the four municipalities in northern Kosovo inhabited by about 40,000 Serbs which have remained outside Prishtina’s control. A compromise was reached over many of the contentious issues including police, education, urban planning, economics, culture, and the health and community organisations of the Serbian municipalities in Kosovo. However, the agreement has been interpreted differently by both sides. The authorities in Kosovo claim that it represents Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo as a de facto state, whereas the Serbian side maintains that the agreement will ensure the autonomy of the Serbian municipalities, and that establishing good relations with Kosovo does not amount to a recognition of its independence. However, these agreements do not guarantee Kosovo’s international recognition or its membership in the United Nations and other international organisations. Nor do they give autonomy to the Serbian communities; the community of Serbian municipalities will only have executive and coordinative powers. The normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is a prerequisite by the EU for continuing the process of the European integration of the two states. After signing the agreement on 22 April, the European Commission recommended the opening of accession negotiations with Serbia, and of negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo. In this case the German position will be decisive. Although the German government received the signature of the document with satisfaction, Berlin also made it clear that it expects the agreement’s provisions to be implemented effectively.
The Agreement primarily concerns the status of the Serbian municipalities in Kosovo, and provides for their voluntary association. This will therefore include both four municipalities in northern Kosovo and the municipalities inhabited mostly by Serbs in the country’s interior. This solution only partially meets the expectations of Belgrade, which seeks to strengthen the Serbian minority institutionally and politically, especially in the four northern municipalities. The community authorities will coordinate the municipalities’ activities within their executive powers in the fields of urban planning, education, culture and health. The community is to represent the municipalities in their relations with Prishtina, but it will not have its own competences, apart from any which may be delegated by the central government. In this way, the Serbian local community’s competences will not generally go beyond those of Kosovo’s other municipalities, although it will provide a platform for the leaders of the Serbian community to represent its interests. The mayors of the four Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo will be able to submit a list of candidates from which Kosovo’s interior minister will select the local police commander in northern Kosovo. The matter of who takes up this position will therefore depend on agreement between the authorities in Prishtina and the leaders of the four Serbian municipalities. The Serbian police structures already existing in the north will be incorporated into the Kosovo police. The police forces are to be fully funded from the Kosovo state budget; the agreement does not specify whether the Serbian institutions in Kosovo will continue to be funded by Belgrade, which may prove to be an area of future conflict. In matters relating to the judiciary in Kosovo, the Serbian municipalities will be responsible for a specific department appellate court in Prishtina, composed of judges representing the Kosovo Serbs. In addition, Serbia’s Prime Minister at that time, Ivica Dacic has stated that he has received assurances from NATO, that the Kosovo army would not enter the Serb-inhabited municipalities in the north of Kosovo.
Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo is the most important demand of the Prishtina authorities. The agreement makes only limited reference to relations between Kosovo and Serbia; the penultimate paragraph of the document requires the parties to refrain from mutually impeding their progress in integrating with the European Union. During the negotiations, the Serbian side requested similar wording relating to the UN and the OSCE to be removed. The Serbian government unanimously adopted the document, but it has avoided taking any actions which would demonstrate that it has recognised Kosovo as a state. It does not mean that the agreement is subject to a process of ratification, which would be appropriate for agreements between states. Thus, the nature of the agreement is open to an asymmetric interpretation. It is unlikely that Kosovo and Serbia will agree on its true nature any time in the near future. The agreement is an important step in the direction of establishing goodneighbourly relations between the Serbian and the Albanian people, although it does not determine the ultimate success of the dialogue. To improve relations between them and their prospects for being integrated into the EU, the smooth implementation of the agreement will be essential. The biggest challenge to it is the scepticism of the Serbs living in northern Kosovo and of representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The question of how to implement the agreement remains open. It provides for the creation of a special Kosovar/Serbian committee to deal with its implementation. Not specified in the document, however, is who would be able to join the committee, or what competences such persons will be granted.
The agreement removes a major barrier to the integration of Serbia and Kosovo with the EU, but it does not conclusively establish any specific date to start Serbia’s accession negotiations or Kosovo’s association talks. The European Commission and the European Parliament clearly recommend these actions; and many European leaders have also expressed similar sentiments. A much more muted reaction, however, has come from Berlin; the German government has stated that the agreements are only the first step towards an expected ‘normalisation’ of relations. Germany may demand rigorous implementation of the agreement before the date for starting accession talks is fixed (i.e. at the Council meeting in June), perhaps by imposing conditional clauses for its approval. Serbia has made far-reaching concessions, but its path towards EU depends on at least a partial and visible implementation of the agreement in the near future. The question is: Is this the end of the Serbian policy towards Kosovo or does it constitute a new policy direction?
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