What Serbs get
I am struck in rereading the Serbia/Kosovo agreement that it is called “First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations.” I assume this reflects mainly Pristina’s view, since the agreement does not go as far as it would like in recognizing Kosovo as a sovereign state. In practice though, this is a moment of strong leverage for Pristina, as the EU is insisting on a settlement of the north as a condition for a starting date for Serbia’s EU accession negotiations. With a date comes money, which Belgrade needs. It is also negotiating a standby arrangement with the International Monetary Fund, but in practice that too may depend on acceptance of the Serbia/Kosovo agreement.
So what else is there in the agreement for Serbia and Serbs?
First and foremost, they get an “Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo.” Established under Kosovo law, the association will “have full overview of the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning” as well as other areas delegated by the Kosovo authorities. It will also represent the Serb municipalities to the Pristina authorities, including in the council of communities. None of this is new. It is foreseen in the Ahtisaari plan, which Belgrade rejected. It looks to me consistent with the Kosovo constitution.
Belgrade has been particularly concerned to get something on police and justice. Here the agreement is unequivocal in providing for integration of the Serb police into the Kosovo police, with salaries paid only by Pristina. What Serbia got on police was a regional police commander for the north chosen by Pristina from a list of four nominated by the northern Kosovo municipalities. This seems eminently reasonable and hopefully workable.
The agreement is also unequivocal in providing for integration of the justice system in the north under Pristina’s legal framework, but with “a panel composed of a majority of K[osovo]/S[erb] judges to deal with all Kosovo Serb majority municipalities” established by the Appellate Court in Pristina to sit permanently in Mitrovica. This too seems to me consistent with the Ahtisaari plan, though not explicitly provided for in it.
Belgrade has also agreed to elections in the north conducted under Pristina’s legal framework.
The picture is clear: Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo will have wide-ranging authority over their own affairs, as provided for in the Ahtisaari plan. But the parallel police, judicial and electoral structures are to be integrated into the Kosovo constitutional and legal framework. This is precisely what German chancellor Angela Merkel has been asking for: an end to the parallel structures and acceptance by Serbia of Kosovo’s territorial integrity, with wide-ranging self-governance for the Serb community.
I might have liked the EU to go further, and in a back-handed way it did. The final point of the agreement is this:
It is agreed that neither side will block, or encourage others to block, the other side’s progress in their respective EU path.
Belgrade is saying that this provision originally asked that neither side block or encourage others to block entry into international organizations. Certainly it is less expansive than that in the final version. But the implicit meaning here is clear: Kosovo is an independent and sovereign state that will progress towards the EU at its own pace and enter without Serbia exercising a veto. This provision is ample basis for EU non-recognizers to proceed with recognition of Kosovo, if they are so inclined with Belgrade standing down from its campaign against.
What Serbs get then is this: Ahtisaari-style arrangements for the governance of Serbs in Kosovo with some modest additional details of implementation, unequivocally within Pristina’s constitutional and legal framework. It is not a bad deal at all, but one they might have had six years ago.
Belgrade is still claiming it will not recognize Kosovo, but for many practical purposes it already has. If Kosovo governs, polices, administers justice, holds elections and also applies for EU membership like a state on a well-defined territory, it is one, independent and sovereign. This agreement confirms it.