Brussels should delink EU accession from implementation of the Pristina-Belgrade agreement. Granting Serbia a date in June would still leave many years to track the normalization process between Kosovo and Serbia. Emphasis could also be given to reassuring the northerners that while change is coming, they will be included in the process of determining their future.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
Both Belgrade and Pristina have formally accepted the 15-point agreement on north Kosovo initialed April 19. But it remains only an outline with many important details to be determined. Defining these details in a way that may ease acceptance by the Kosovo Serb majority living in the north would be key to any chance of peacefully implementing the agreement. Bringing the northern Serbs into the process before terms are put into concrete would be vital. Gaining their participation would, in the best of circumstances, take time. But time does not seem to be what the EU has in mind. Brussels – led by the Germans – seems intent on conditioning a start date for EU accession talks with Serbia on complete implementation by late June. An implementation plan is to be drawn up by April 26. But a rush to force the pace of change over the north may simply lead to further conflict.
Pristina is already counting on the “dismissal” of Serbian “parallel security structures” by June and the “incorporation” of “illegal civil defense” elements in the north into Kosovo’s nascent military. Kosovo’s deputy prime minister reportedly said that “concrete steps” for “interruption” of the “illegal” structures will be undertaken, with building “legal structures” starting “immediately.” Pristina has hinted that it expects NATO support in enforcing the agreement. Meanwhile, the northern Serbs have rallied en mass against the agreement with leaders announcing refusal to cooperate in any way with implementation. Any effort by Pristina to introduce its security forces into the north – or simply take command of local police still in Kosovo uniforms – is likely to stir conflict and lead to violence.
The Quint – at least Germany and the US – may still expect Belgrade to simply order the northerners to fall in line. Perhaps they count on Belgrade to immediately cut support and otherwise threaten to abandon the northerners if they do not cooperate. It cannot be ruled out that Belgrade might seek to do so in its haste to win EU approval. Many northerners believe that Belgrade already gave away too much, too quickly to Pristina. But Belgrade cannot easily be seen to be completely isolating the northern Serbs and it cannot enforce immediate surrender. Quint/Pristina/Belgrade haste in the face of almost universal rejection of the agreement in the north is a recipe for failure and conflict.
What could be done to ease the path to peaceful change? Patience and time, for a start. Brussels should delink EU accession from implementation of the Pristina-Belgrade agreement. Granting Serbia a date in June would still leave many years to track the normalization process between Kosovo and Serbia. Emphasis could also be given to reassuring the northerners that while change is coming, they will be included in the process of determining their future. Most Serbs in the north understand that the situation cannot remain as is. But they fear that the direction of events now threatens their continued existence in Kosovo. With no one apparently on their side, they feel they have no choice but to resist. Finding ways to change that perception and offer space to those willing to consider alternatives to resistance requires time and confidence building efforts from Pristina and the internationals.
Pristina and the EU can begin by offering assurances on five core issues: Pristina could pledge that any role it has in choosing the regional police commander and appeals courts judges would be exercised with the advice and consent (and through) a neutral international, such as the UK. Pristina and the EU could outline a transparent process on funding from Serbia that goes through a non-Kosovo bank and includes full public reporting. Pristina could pledge that its special police (ROSU) will stay south of the Ibar with local policing to be trusted to the regular Kosovo police from both sides of the River. Pristina could accept that the boundary between the two Mitrovicas is the Ibar and disband its present administration office in the north. Finally, Pristina could call a halt to unilateral returns to the north pending a global agreement on property and returns. Leadership of this kind would stake Pristina’s claim to a real commitment to a multi-ethnic Kosovo.
Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010.
To read TransConflict’s policy paper, entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.
To learn more about both Serbia and Kosovo, please check out TransConflict’s reading lists series by clicking here.