Author's text by Chollet and Escobar: It is time to establish the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities

Eskobar Šole.jpg
Source: Reporteri

US State Department adviser Derek Chollet and US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, in the author's text for Koha, once again emphasized the necessity of forming a Community of Serb-majority Municipalities.

The text in its entirety follows.

The United States of America and the European Union put a new emphasis on the integration of the Western Balkans into the transatlantic family. In February 2022, President Biden and Chancellor Scholz declared that they had been committed to "closing the issue of the integration of the Western Balkans... in order to finally achieve a complete Europe, free and in peace."

Among our most important goals in the Western Balkans is to help create conditions for healthy, peaceful, and stable relations between Serbia and Kosovo. In the past weeks, together with France, Germany, Italy, and the EU, we traveled to Belgrade and Pristina to encourage both sides to accept the EU's proposal for both countries to normalize relations, end the cycle of crises and confrontations and resolutely improve their European integration. This is a historic opportunity that we believe both sides should take advantage of.

Among the most important tasks remains the implementation of the agreement on the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities.

There has been a lot of discussion about the Community and the time has come to make it clear what the Community is and what it is not.

In general, the Community would be a structure for municipalities with an ethnic Serb-majority population to coordinate issues and services such as education, health care, urban and rural planning, and local economic development - in other words, functions for which all municipalities in Kosovo are responsible. It is a way to improve the daily life of citizens; to create trust between the ethnic Serbs and the central government; to ensure better connections between the north and the rest of the country, and create mechanisms for the Serbs to participate more in the social life of Kosovo.

Equally important, the implementation of the Community Agreement is a remaining, legally binding international obligation, which requires action by Kosovo, Serbia, and the EU, as well as the existing commitment of the United States of America in support of EU-mediated dialogue.

Kosovo's commitment to creating a Community does not violate its Constitution, nor does it threaten sovereignty, independence, or democratic institutions. We strongly oppose the creation of anything similar to Republika Srpska ethnic community in Bosnia and Herzegovina; The international community does not seek to impose a solution. Instead, we are asking Kosovo to provide its vision for this Community and we are ready to provide expertise and political support to ensure that it functions in the best interest of the citizens of Kosovo.

The EU Special Representative pointed out that there are 14 similar arrangements within the European Union - none of which undermines European systems of effective governance. Within the EU-mediated dialogue, Kosovo can reject options that threaten its legal structure, but it cannot reject its obligations. As the most pro-Kosovo-oriented country in the world, the United States of America is committed to supporting the people of Kosovo to ensure that its constitutional and legal structure is not compromised.

What would the Community look like? Municipalities with common interests, language and culture could work together more effectively to solve common challenges in providing public services, through economies of scale and the exchange of best practices. For example, municipalities will be able to design curricula and programs in the Serbian language for local schools in some municipalities, rather than working in a vacuum and doing double work. Such cooperation is in accordance with the decision of the Constitutional Court in 2015 on the commitment to join and the principles of good governance practiced in other European countries.

What the Community would not be? It would not add a new level of executive and legislative power to the Government of Kosovo. This important principle dates back to Ahtisaari's proposal. Municipalities cooperate in the joint management of jurisdictions within the framework of legitimate Kosovo institutions and structures. Allowing certain municipalities to more effectively exercise the powers they already have, would avoid the need for Kosovo citizens to seek services from illegal parallel structures - as many now do - and would preserve the transparency and legality of the structure under and within Kosovo law. And any support and help that Serbia would offer to the Kosovo Serb community would have to be transparent and go through these legitimate and permitted channels.

Also, it is important to point out that the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities will not be mono-national. These would be municipalities with a Serbian majority, where not only ethnic Serbs live, but also other groups - Albanians, Bosniaks and others - whose rights must also be ensured and protected. Members of the Community would be local officials who have already been elected as representatives of all residents in their municipalities. Among the main concerns of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo was the question of how to ensure that the Community remained open to all ethnic groups and was fully within the structure of Kosovo's legal framework, and called for the original proposal to be adapted and not rejected, and emphasized the obligation to create such a community according to Brussels agreement.

As Kosovo's closest friend and ally, we believe that Kosovo, working to establish the Community, will fulfill a key element necessary for building its just future as a sovereign, multi-ethnic and independent state, integrated into Euro-Atlantic structures.

We are ready to support Kosovo to fulfill this obligation and we will stand by your country every step of the way. The future of Kosovo and Serbia - and their young people who are now looking for opportunities abroad - can be bright in a whole, free and peaceful Europe. All we need is to seize this moment together.