Euronews: The rights of Serbs in Kosovo as a pledge for the final agreement

Beograd Priština
Source: Kosovo Online

After the agreement on the license plates that was reached last week in Brussels, numerous issues have been still open and expected to be resolved in further Belgrade-Pristina negotiations. One of them is regarding the return of Serbs to Kosovo institutions, which is conditioned by the Community of Serb-Majority Municipalities (CSM) establishment, and regarding the fulfillment of Kosovan Serbs’ fundamental rights.

The second issue is a priority, at least from the European point of view, and it is certainly the most difficult one. It concerns the achievement of the final agreement and the deadline for achieving that goal. Interlocutors of Euronews Serbia point out that these two issues must be dealt with separately and that this is the only way to get out of the "vicious circle".

Stefan Surlic from the Faculty of Political Sciences told Euronews Serbia that the status issue should be handled completely separately, i.e. what the international actors wish for - to reach an agreement and, on the other hand, achieving the status of the Serbs in Kosovo, their rights to autonomy, and everything that was guaranteed to them by the reached agreements.

"We are in a vicious circle where the rights of the Serbs are presented as a pledge for the final agreement. This has nothing to do with the status issue and the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina," he pointed out.

The latest agreement managed, albeit at the last moment, to calm the tensions on the ground caused by Pristina's announcement that it would start fining those who did not re-register their vehicles to RKS license plates. However, while that issue is off the table for now, what threatens to cause new problems are the extraordinary local elections on December 18, scheduled after the resignations of the mayors of four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo. The Serb List announced that it would not participate in those elections, which, as experts warn, puts it at risk that local authorities, that will not have the legitimacy and support of the majority of the population, will be formed in the north.

All that has happened in the past weeks has led to the fact that there has been increasingly more talk about a comprehensive agreement on the solution to Kosovo's status. The novelty is that the so-called Franco-German plan presented by the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron will now form part of the platform for future negotiations. However, Surlic has no doubt that March, which has been mentioned recently, is an unrealistic deadline for an agreement and adds that several preconditions are needed for it to happen.

"First, there must be at least a minimum of trust between the two parties. Second, the rights of the Serbian community in Kosovo must be exercised. The third precondition, everything that was previously agreed needs to be implemented, and the fourth is that at least some road map needs to be established - where this dialogue begins, where it ends, and what its goal is. If there is no minimum consensus, then any talk about the final agreement looks more like propaganda that doesn’t exist in reality," Surlic stated.

Return to institutions and the CSM

After the decision of the Serbs to leave all Kosovo institutions, including the police and the judiciary, uncertainty arose in the north of Kosovo. It is a big question how and whether the elections in the north will be organized without the support of the Serbs.

"At the moment, the elections that have been announced for mid-December are a huge danger. If the Serb List does not participate in those elections, the factual reality, that Pristina wishes for a long time, may happen – suitable actors from minority communities in the north running for office and exercising power in the northern municipalities. I think that is the worst possible scenario because then local authorities that have no legitimacy and no support from the majority of the population would be formed," Surlic said.

Therefore, in his opinion, the only solution that can guarantee long-term stability in the north is for the Serbs to return to the institutions and to participate in the elections, and the precondition for that is to at least start the discussion about the CSM formation, which Pristina has so far explicitly rejected.

Conceived as a mechanism for the protection of the Serbian population in Kosovo, the CSM would consist of ten municipalities with a Serbian majority, south and north of the Ibar River. After the signing of the Brussels Agreement, it was guaranteed that the CSM would be formed after the elections scheduled for November 2013. It did not happen. Moreover, the Kosovo Constitutional Court declared certain provisions of the agreement as unconstitutional. In the meantime, no political group in Kosovo was ready to commit to the fulfillment of this agreement, and such an attitude escalated with Kurti’s arrival.

"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 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," Dragisa Mijacic, coordinator of the National Convention on the EU for Chapter 35, said for Euronews Serbia.

In the increasingly frequent statements of European mediators, it is said that the pressure on Pristina could be greater in the coming period, when it comes to this issue. As European Union Spokesperson Peter Stano recently said, when asked what can 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 applied to the formation of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities."

"I am encouraged by the fact that the Western representatives repeatedly reiterate that the CSM must be implemented, then in the last round we could hear that the CSM is an obligation that must be implemented, so, for now, we have not had that kind of offer for Belgrade that the CSM must be in the Franco-German final agreement, but exactly what was the initial idea – that it is a kind of autonomy, the fulfillment of the Serbs rights, so only then will the possibility of discussions at the highest political level about the status of Kosovo open up," Surlic noted.

And exactly the question concerning the status of Serbs in Kosovo is still unresolved. Surlic points out that ever since Ahtisaari's plan, it has been constantly considered how to realize the rights of the Serbian community in Kosovo has, and their rights are constantly being violated.

"Even the provisions of the Ahtisaari plan are constantly being violated, not to mention the Brussels Agreement and all the technical agreements, there is no full implementation by the authorities in Pristina, and that is a key problem. What concerns the status and what the international actors wish for reaching an agreement should be viewed completely separately. The fulfillment of the Kosovan Serbs' status as minority rights, the right to autonomy, all that is guaranteed to them by the agreements reached – is a separate issue, so we are in a vicious circle where the rights of the Serbs are presented as a pledge for the final agreement. It has nothing to do with the status issue and the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina," Surlic pointed out.

Deadline for the final agreement

The crisis with the license plates and the attempts to resolve it could represent a kind of prelude to the final agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. It was the previous period that served to test the public when it came to numerous proposals, in which specific deadlines for signing agreements were often mentioned.

The EU Special Envoy for the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Miroslav Lajcak, previously stated that the year 2024, when elections are held in the USA and the EU, could be the deadline for reaching an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. One of the dates heard in the European circles was March 2023, and it was Kurti who recently accused the European Head of Diplomacy, Josep Borell, of abandoning that date as a deadline for reaching an agreement on normalization.

"There are two dates in circulation, two time periods, there is a talk of March next year, which I personally consider to be a short period to reach a meaningful comprehensive agreement," Miodrag Milicevic from the non-governmental organization Aktiv from Kosovska Mitrovica said earlier, adding that it was quite certain to happen in the next year.

Surlic also points out that he thinks March is a short deadline.

"Of course, Belgrade did not shy away from that type of dialogue. As far as we could hear, the German and French representatives stated that they had received some documents from Belgrade and Pristina. I believe there is a lot of pressure on Belgrade to reach some final agreement that the mediators can present as a great victory or success, especially in this geopolitical moment of the war with Ukraine, but again I think that the preconditions must be met," he emphasized.

Surlic added that the negotiations would certainly be difficult because Kosovo has probably been offered the opportunity to achieve its full international recognition and membership in international organizations.

"I am not familiar with the text (of the Franco-German proposal), but based on all the statements we have heard so far, international actors want such a legal formulation that will allow the five EU countries, which have not recognized Kosovo's independence, to do so, as well as four of NATO members, which would mean a free, unhindered path for Kosovo towards membership in the EU and NATO," Surlic concluded.