CSM - how to unlock the dialogue: After the agreement on license plates in Brussels the way for Belgrade’s key demand is open

Bilbordi ZSO
Source: Kosovo Online

The Community of Serb-majority Municipalities, almost a decade after it was agreed in Brussels, remains a key demand of Belgrade in the dialogue with Pristina, Euronews Serbia writes.

As one of the key points of the Brussels Agreement, this important guarantee for the survival of Kosovan Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija has long represented an insurmountable line of discord between Belgrade and Pristina. Now that the last crisis in the north of Kosovo has been overcome with the mediation of the EU, the question arises whether the latest agreement in Brussels has finally opened the way for this issue to be put on the table and resolved.

After the agreement on the license plates was reached in Brussels, there is room for two big and difficult topics to be put on the table in future negotiations - the implementation of previously signed agreements, which will be particularly important in the context of the formation of the CSM, but also a platform for future negotiations on the normalization of relations, which will be based on the so-called Franco-German proposal.

"The EU will ensure that the key issues and principles related to normalization are addressed in the context of the proposal. The parties understand that all previous agreements on dialogue must be implemented," said the High EU representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell.

Conceived as a mechanism for the protection of the Serbian population in Kosovo, the CSM would consist of ten Serb-majority Municipalities, south and north of the Ibar River. The topic of the CSM has so far been in a vicious circle of attempts to move the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina from the deadlock, so its formation is, on the one hand, a precondition for the Serbs to return to Kosovo's institutions, while Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has so far been explicit in alleging that it is not in accordance with the Kosovo constitution and that the formation of the CSM is impossible. Now, as analysts interpret, the last round of dialogue in Brussels brought a softening of such hard positions, but also a signal of new pressures.

The increasingly frequent statements of the European mediators show that the pressure on Pristina when it comes to this issue could be greater in the coming period. As European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said, when asked what could be expected next, he pointed out that "the return of Kosovo Serbs to the institutions was one of the basic expectations of the EU and that the same applies to the formation of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities".

How the situation will ultimately be resolved is impossible to predict, Dragisa Mijacic, the coordinator of the Working Group of the National Convention on the EU for Chapter 35, tells Euronews Serbia.

"One of the current challenges in the dialogue process is the dilemma of whether to first establish the CSM and then sign the agreement on normalization, which Belgrade advocates or if the CSM should be established only after the signing of the final agreement, which is advocated by Pristina. The exit of the Serbs from the institutions certainly accelerated the processes, but at this moment it is not clear how the situation will be resolved in the end," he said.

"Pressure on Pristina to finally agree"

After the signing of the Brussels Agreement, it was guaranteed that the CSM would be formed after the elections scheduled for November 2013. This did not happen, and certain provisions of the agreement were declared unconstitutional by the Kosovo Constitutional Court. In the meantime, not a single political group in Kosovo was ready to commit to the fulfillment of this agreement, and such an attitude escalated precisely with the arrival of Kurti.

However, as Miodrag Milicevic from the non-governmental organization Aktiv from Kosovska Mitrovica told Euronews Serbia, after the agreement on the license plates, this was the first time that Kurti accepted to commit to the implementation of the Brussels Agreement.

As Mijacic explained, the issue of the CSM was very important in the process of normalizing relations because without it there was no full integration of Serbs into Kosovo institutions.

"The CSM should take over all the institutions of the Republic of Serbia that operate in Kosovo, such as hospitals and schools, which are the most important for the life of Serbs in those areas. Belgrade tried several times to raise the issue of establishing the CSM, but it was always met with resistance from Pristina. Leaving the institutions is an additional pressure to convince the Kosovo side to finally agree to the establishment of this important institution for the protection of the collective rights of Serbs in Kosovo," he pointed out.

However, when asked whether the representatives of the international community can take any concrete step regarding this, instead of just declaratively supporting its formation, Mijacic points out that the EU was supposed to be the guarantor of all agreements signed within the Brussels dialogue, but it withdrew from that roles and thus called into question the credibility of the negotiations and the quality of implementation of the agreements reached.

"The second challenge is the principle of “constructive ambiguity”, which should have enabled Belgrade and Pristina to communicate more painlessly with their citizens, but led to the same agreement being interpreted differently in Serbia and Kosovo. This led to voluntarism in the implementation of the agreement, which had the most negative effect on the formation of the CSM. The European Union and other international partners certainly have instruments that could lead to the formation of the CSM. However, this pressure will not have a significant effect unless a modality is found that is acceptable to both Belgrade and Pristina, and that takes time," Mijacic pointed out.

Regarding this issue, as far as Serbia is concerned, there are no more negotiations, says former diplomat Zoran Milivojevic. Serbia believes that the CSM is clearly defined by the agreement of April 19, 2013, and clearly presented in organizational and functional terms by the supplementary agreement in 2015, where it was elaborated to the end, and that it can only be implemented in this way and that it is not subject to any corrections, including by the Constitutional Court of Kosovo.

"Simply, the Brussels Agreement is an older document than any regulation on the internal level, and the CSM should be implemented, as defined by the Brussels Agreement, and be incorporated into the political system of Kosovo and Metohija and applied in such a form when it comes to composition, jurisdiction, functioning and everything else. Because it is a guarantee for the survival of the Serbian people and the possibility of their functioning in the conditions of normal life in Kosovo and Metohija," Milivojevic told Tanjug.

Adoption of a new law is a proposal

One of Pristina's main arguments for not establishing the CSM is that it is not compatible with the Kosovo constitution, and as recently reported by the Albanian Post, international legal experts claimed that they had found a way by which it could be implemented in the current constitution.

As stated, the idea was to pass a new law, which currently did not exist in Kosovo, through which municipalities could form associations for cooperation and inter-municipal coordination. The law would apply to all municipalities equally, not only to those Serb-majority municipalities. The only thing that would be required for establishment would be the will of one municipality to become part of it. This law would be used by the Serb-majority municipalities to build their community.

Commenting on this, ATV managing editor, Leart Hoxha, says that it is a bit hard to believe that nobody has not come up with this for nine years. He doubts that one law can fix everything.

"Perhaps, if we treat that Community of Serb-majority municipalities with a different name and some other powers, or if there are several bodies, that is, if there is a special body for some of the powers that that community was supposed to have, then we establish several such bodies within one law. I don't know if it can be done, but since the community as such has already gone through some revisions, including by the constitutional court, and for God's sake, it has gone through many revisions, both political and legal, in the past ten years, I doubt that it can be fixed with only one law. Even if it is possible if that law involves changing the constitution, then a two-thirds majority is needed, which Kurti's party does not have, and that is an additional complication on the political front as well," Hoxha said.

Mijacic points out that the existing legislation already allows municipalities to join forces, so there is no need to adopt new legal solutions.

"It is necessary to enter into an essential dialogue on how to protect the collective rights of Serbs in Kosovo through the institutions of the CSM in a way that will be acceptable for Pristina. There are successful examples in many European countries that could be applied in Kosovo, goodwill is the only thing necessary to solve this problem," he emphasized.

What is written in the Brussels Agreement?

The Brussels Agreement was signed in 2013 by the former Prime Minister of Serbia, Ivica Dacic, and the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, in the presence of the High EU Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton. It was amended in 2015, it consists of 15 points, and the first six refer to the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities.

1. There will be an Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities in Kosovo. Membership will be open to any other municipality provided the members agree.

2. This Community/Association will be established based on the Statute. It can only be dissolved based on the decision of the participating municipalities. Legal guarantees will be provided by applicable law and constitutional law (including the two-thirds majority rule).

3. The structures of the Association/Community will be established on the same basis as the existing Statute of the Association of Kosovo Municipalities, e.g. president, vice president, Assembly, and Council.

4. In accordance with the competencies assigned by the European Charter on Local Government and Kosovo law, the participating municipalities will have the right to cooperate in the collective implementation of powers through the Community/Association. The Association/Community will have full supervision over the areas of economic development, education, health, urban planning, and rural development.

5. The Association/Community will exercise other additional competencies that may be delegated to it by the central authorities.

6. The Community/Association will have a representative role towards the central authorities and to that end, it will be represented in the community consultative council. In order to fulfill this role, a monitoring function is provided.