What good did the Brussels Agreement bring to the Serbs, what to the Albanians, and why was it paralyzed?

Severna Mitrovica - Priština
Source: Kosovo Online

The first Brussels Agreement, seen a decade ago as a turning point in Serbian-Albanian relations, is now in complete paralysis, and the two sides are back at the beginning. The interlocutors of Kosovo Online, however, believe that this, as well as the agreements that followed within the negotiation process, had the potential to normalize the relations between the two parties - if they had been implemented and if there had been no obstructions.

According to their assessment, the first agreement gave impetus to the relaxation of relations between the Serbs and the Albanians, and if they had all been implemented, all citizens would have benefited.

The Community of Serb-majority Municipalities, let's recall, was the main motive for the Serbian side to initial the First Agreement from April 2013, because it was conceived as the most important political instrument for the protection of the collective rights of the Serbs in Kosovo. At the end of this month, on August 25, it will be eight years since the agreement on the principles of the formation of the CSM was reached, but Pristina quickly stopped it already in October of that year when the then-president of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, asked the Constitutional Court to evaluate its constitutionality.

The court said that the principles related to the CSM "are not fully aligned with the spirit of the Constitution" and since then every government in Pristina has used this verdict as an alibi not to form the CSM even though the Constitutional Court ordered its formation with the same decision.

Based on the First Brussels Agreement, Serbian police officers and judges were integrated into the Kosovo system, but they left those positions last fall, and the agreement also provided for local elections in the north according to Kosovo laws, which were also held in April this year according to that legislation, but this time with a Serb boycott and minimal voter turnout.

Political analyst Ognjen Gogic tells Kosovo Online that the implementation of the Brussels Agreement from 2013, until Albin Kurti came to power, contributed to the improvement of Serbian-Albanian relations and that since then the undoing of what had been achieved before it began.

"The agreement stipulated that the Serbs in the north of Kosovo in four municipalities become a part of the Kosovo system, by forming municipalities in another system, by integrating them into the Kosovo police and judiciary, and that in return Pristina would allow the formation of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities. That second part never came true, and this first part did and came to life in practice until November 2022, when the Serbs left the Kosovo institutions and when the agreement was definitively, de facto, annulled. It can be said that nothing has been left of it today," Gogic says.

He notes that the signing of the agreement opened Serbia's accession negotiations with the EU in 2014 and that there was a will on the Serbian side to implement what was agreed upon.

"It can be said that the demands of Pristina, which wanted to integrate the north of Kosovo, were met, but also that this process improved Serbian-Albanian relations. The Serbs entered the institutions where they cooperated with the Albanians and there was greater interaction between the Serbs and the Albanians. The economic cooperation between the Serbs and the Albanians, that is, between Kosovo and central Serbia, received a boost and it became more acceptable for the Serbs and the Albanians to cooperate in various fields. What is called the normalization of relations has begun, although the Serbs in the north would say, 'It's all nice, but we never even wanted some things', since until then they felt as if they were Kraljevo or Raska," our interlocutor says.

As a "plus" to the Brussels Agreement, many attribute the period without major tensions (until the Self-Determination Movement came to power), although Gogic reminds that there were occasional ones and gives examples of the arrest of Marko Djuric or the increase in taxes on Serbian products during the Government of Ramush Haradinaj.

"These were more 'holes in the roof' - we were moving towards normalization, so some challenges arose and were overcome. However, with the arrival of Kurti, the undoing of what was done before he came to power begins. From the fall of 2021, when the problem with license plates from central Serbia arose, the process of collapsing everything that had been achieved began, then there was the abandonment of institutions by the Serbs, and finally the police were sent to be around the buildings in the municipalities in the north, which is contrary to the normalization of relations,” Gogic says.

Apart from the points that favored the Albanians, the agreement included the formation of the CSM, and Gogic says that the Community was supposed to dampen the entry of the Serbs from the north into the Kosovo system so that they "feel it as little as possible", and since the CSM was not formed, they frustration only increased.

Regarding whether it was ever said that, when the CSM was formed, Serbian local self-governments on the territory of Kosovo would have to be abolished, Gogic says that this was never said anywhere.

"There is a myth and an established opinion that with the formation of the CSM, the Provisional Authorities, as well as health and education, would be integrated into the Kosovo system. The temporary authorities finance and enable the operation of these two systems, and it does not appear from any agreement that this should be abolished. If this is ever to be touched upon, then it must be the subject of a separate agreement, not something 'implied'. When it is said that the CSM will have responsibilities in the field of education and health, people think that this also means integration into the Kosovo system. However, municipalities in Kosovo already have competencies in these areas in the sense that they can pay salaries, paint buildings, and the like. Nowhere was it said, and it must not be interpreted, that with the formation of the CSM, education, and health, which are in the Serbian system, will be integrated into the Kosovo one," Gogic points out.

On the other hand, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Pristina, Mazllum Baraliu, believes that the agreements from the Brussels negotiation process did not bring anything new to either side, because most, he says, were not accepted at all. If that were to change, as he believes, all citizens would benefit.

"I don't think the best model or method was chosen, because the 'take it or leave it' approach to one side or the other was not the best method. Regardless, the intention of the international community and the European Union was good. If the agreements were accepted, it would be good for both countries, and for all citizens, because integration processes would be accelerated, there would be more opportunities to obtain funds through IPA and other programs, there would be more investments and confidence of investors, direct and foreign investors, from the diaspora, both here and in Serbia. Because no one can gain trust in these conditions when we, actually the political elites, are arguing," Baraliu says.

He points out that any agreement that contributes to mutual coexistence is good, but he believes that the political elites in Belgrade and Pristina, both before and now, did not have it as a priority.

As for the CSM, Baraliu believes that there is no interest in it on any side.

"In Kosovo the least. Such was the convulsive position of this coalition, especially Self-Determination as the largest party even before the last elections - that the Community could not be formed, especially not as it was projected in April 2013 and 2015 by the August agreement. And the Constitutional Court said that it could not be done that way, but differently. According to my deep conviction as a Professor of Law, that decision of the Constitutional Court only brought a delusion and was not what it should have been," Baraliu says.

He also believes that no one is interested in the Franco-German plan, or in the Ohrid Agreement. Agreements, he states, were either not accepted at all, were not implemented, or were only partially implemented.

"What kind of agreement is that that no one accepted? In fact, Pristina accepted it but did not sign it, and Belgrade did not accept it," Baraliu says, adding that neither side is ready to fulfill the obligations they have accepted.