The First Brussels Agreement 11 years later – the beginning of a new chapter that is still awaited

Dačić, Ešton i Tači - Briselski sporazum
Source: Politika

I want to congratulate you on your determination over these months as well as your courage,” were the first words of Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, to the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Kosovo, Ivica Dacić and Hashim Thaçi, when, 11 years ago today in Brussels, they initialed the First Agreement on Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations between Belgrade and Pristina, more commonly referred to as the First Brussels Agreement.

Much water has since flowed down the Ibar River, and the agreement, which was expected to bring lasting peace and was called important and even a historic step by international officials at the time, is today in total hibernation, while the Serbian people in Kosovo are in a never more difficult situation.

Although the Serbian side relatively quickly fulfilled the points that were its obligation and which from the perspective of Serbs in Kosovo were quite painful concessions: that all police in northern Kosovo be integrated into the Kosovo Police, that judicial authorities function within the legal system of Kosovo, and that municipal elections in the northern municipalities in 2013 be organized with the mediation of the OSCE in accordance with Kosovo law, Pristina has to this day not fulfilled the only obligation from this document, of crucial importance for the Serbs, to form the Community of Serb Municipalities. There is no trace of the determination and courage mentioned by Ashton.

Without the CSM (Community of Serb Municipalities), and after the Serbs employed in Kosovo institutions left in November 2022 in protest against Pristina's policy towards their colleagues and compatriots, it can be said that everything has practically been reset to the beginning.

In these 11 years, European mediators in the dialogue have changed (Catherine Ashton, Federica Mogherini, Miroslav Lajcák) and so have Kosovo's Prime Ministers (Hashim Thaçi, Isa Mustafa, Ramush Haradinaj, Avdullah Hoti, Albin Kurti), and the question of who is responsible for the fact that in 2024 there is still no CSM, might be answered as: all of them together.

From the beginning, it was clear that the Kosovo authorities were looking for excuses not to form the Community, and that the European mediators could not, would not, or did not want to force them to do so, despite the fact that the establishment of the CSM had become an international obligation for Kosovo once the Kosovo parliament ratified the Brussels Agreement. It's not that the EU doesn't know this, they occasionally even remind Pristina. And it always ends up as nothing.

What “tripped up” the CSM at the very start was the move by the President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, who in October 2015 requested the Constitutional Court to assess the constitutionality of the agreement on the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities. Pending the court's decision, she asked that the Brussels agreement on the CSM be suspended, which was interpreted in Belgrade as a maneuver by Pristina to buy time.

The Constitutional Court issued a verdict on December 23, 2015, stating that the principles relating to the CSM, which were agreed upon in Brussels, "are not fully in line with the spirit of the Constitution," with an explanation that it refers to provisions concerning equality before the law, as well as the rights of communities and their members.

However, the same verdict also states "that the Community of Municipalities with a Serbian majority will be established as foreseen by the First Agreement, ratified by the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo and declared by the President of the Republic of Kosovo." This decision of the Constitutional Court is binding for both the current and any future government in Kosovo.

The CSM, as planned, should include ten municipalities: Leposavić, Zvecan, North Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Partes, Ranilug, Novo Brdo, Gracanica, Strpce, and Klokot.

Although, according to the agreements from Brussels, the Management Team, composed of representatives of Serbs from Kosovo, was tasked with drafting the statute of the CSM and completed this task, presenting their draft on May 2 last year in Brussels, this document was rejected by Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti, and in October last year, the "big five" imposed themselves as the new drafters of the Statute, presenting their document at meetings in Pristina and Belgrade. This document has since become the "European" draft which has not yet been presented to the public.

What does the First Brussels Agreement consist of in its 15 points?

The first states: "There will be a Community of municipalities in which Serbs constitute the majority population in Kosovo. Membership will be open to any other municipality provided that the members agree."

The agreement further provides that the CSM will have a president, vice president, assembly, council..., full control over the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural development.

Point 9 of this document details the organization of the police in four municipalities in northern Kosovo.

"There will be a regional police commander for the four municipalities in the north where Serbs constitute the majority population (North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok, and Leposavić). The commander of this region will be a Kosovo Serb appointed by the Ministry of Interior from a list submitted by the four mayors on behalf of the Community/Association. The composition of the KP in the north will reflect the ethnic composition of the population of these four municipalities. (There will be another regional police commander for the municipalities of South Mitrovica, Srbica, and Vucitrn). The regional commander of the four northern municipalities will cooperate with other regional commanders," states the agreement.

"Judicial authorities will be integrated and will function within the legal system of Kosovo. The Appeals Court in Pristina will form a panel that will be predominantly composed of judges from the ranks of Kosovo Serbs and deal with all municipalities with a majority Serbian population. The Appeals Court division, comprising administrative staff and judges, will have a permanent seat in North Mitrovica (District Court in Mitrovica). The majority of each panel mentioned in this Division will consist of judges from the ranks of Kosovo Serbs. Appropriate judges will sit in the judicial panels, depending on the nature of the given case," stated in point 10.

Points 13 and 14 emphasize that the two sides will intensify talks on energy and telecommunications and conclude them by June 15, 2013, and that it has been agreed that neither side will block, nor encourage others to block, the progress of the other side on its path towards the EU.