Serbia and Kosovo: The Path to Normalisation
Pristina/Belgrade/Brussels | 19 Feb 2013
Serbia and Kosovo must build on a recent breakthrough in negotiations and extend dialogue to sensitive issues, especially northern Kosovo’s institutions, in order to keep their fragile relationship moving forward.
Serbia and Kosovo: The Path to Normalisation, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the progress made in bilateral dialogue since the EU-facilitated negotiations began in March 2011. It argues in favour of transforming Serbian structures in the North so that they can fit into a common Kosovo framework based on a flexible and extended application of the plan devised by the former UN special envoy and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari. At the same time, Serbia should welcome Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe and other international and regional organisations and events.
“The dialogue is now at a decisive point. Belgrade’s and Pristina’s positions on northern Kosovo have never been closer”, says Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Balkans Project Director, “but low-level violence in the North is increasing and could worsen if the opportunity for important new progress is missed”.
In December 2012, Serbia and Kosovo reached a landmark agreement on border control, opening two jointly-managed posts at crossings that had been barricaded or circumvented for the two years. As soon as possible, the two should finalise its implementation; agree on how to collect customs duty and VAT; and define the modalities of a special fund to collect and disburse these revenues in the North. Kosovo and EU officers should be provided freedom of movement to reach the border, while the Kosovo government should continue to allow residents to cross with Serbia or Kosovo issued documents and plates.
Northern Kosovo Serbs oppose the border agreement and much of the current dialogue, and violent incidents still occur. Securing local acceptance will be hard; to help pave the way Belgrade should make deals reached in the dialogue more transparent, Kosovo should allow Serbian representatives to visit northern Kosovo, and the latter’s leaders should accept an invitation to participate when the dialogue addresses issues of local concern.
The disagreement between Kosovo and Serbia centres on the Ahtisaari plan, which sets in place Kosovo’s internal structure and statehood. Flexible application would allow Serbia and Kosovo to find the best solutions to the impasse over northern Kosovo. In particular, the transformation of the North’s existing structures into self-governing bodies and a region that could fit into Kosovo’s jurisdiction could ease tensions, meet the needs of the local community and preserve Kosovo’s integrity. Kosovo Serbs should have additional oversight over appointments of local officials, especially in the northern police and judiciary.
Substantial progress in normalising their bilateral relations, in particular settling disagreements over northern Kosovo, would open up negotiations for an EU Stabilisation and Association Agreement for Pristina; Belgrade would benefit from starting formal EU membership negotiations. Both steps should amplify EU influence and over time create a better climate for resolving remaining bilateral disputes.
“Belgrade and Pristina should seize this chance to engage in a substantial discussion on the transformation of existing structures in North Kosovo”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “Navigating a sure route will be hard, but early stages of the talks and recent developments provide hope that a new normality is slowly emerging between the two neighbours”.