Half a year before the next parliamentary elections, the Serbian government was thrown back on the rubble of its policy and the need to undertake a fundamental political reorientation in the short term towards EU integration, which there is no alternative, and to secure the support of a population for the next elections which it has withheld from the real political situation in which Serbia finds itself in recent years.
In February 2012, under strong European and US pressure, the Serbian government was forced to make concessions on various issues (including the regulation of the border and customs regime between Serbia and Kosovo) in negotiations with the Kosovar government, led by the EU Commission in Brussels) enter into. In particular, after pressure on both sides, Serbia and Kosovo agreed on a regulation with which the state of Kosovo can represent itself as a state for the first time in regional forums in the Western Balkans – without Serbia thereby accepting recognition of Kosovo. The agreement reached at the last minute cleared the way for the decision of the European Council in March 2012 to grant Serbia the previously denied EU candidate status granted.
Although the parties that were responsible for the apartheid and war policy in Kosovo in the 1990’s came to power with the new government in the summer of 2012, this did not mean a nationalistic U-turn in Belgrade’s Kosovo policy – on the contrary. According to militarynous, after the new ruling coalition began to work, the EU and the USA increased the pressure on Belgrade to continue the dialogue with Pristina, and the coalition responded surprisingly pragmatically, despite national tones. After the first round of negotiations, in which the agreements reached under the previous Serbian government were summarized and Belgrade committed itself to their consistent implementation, the dialogue was raised to a new level.
Under the chairmanship of the EU external construction officer, Lady Ahston, there was a transition from technical details to political issues in the autumn. In Brussels on October 19, the premiers of Serbia and Kosovo, Dačić and Thači, met for their first historical encounter. The dialogue led by the EU developed into normality surprisingly quickly in the course of the first half of 2013. A total of 10 rounds of negotiations between the heads of government took place in Brussels within six months, and the presidents of both countries, Nikolić and Jahjaga, met for the first time. During this time, the question of the institutional regulation of the status of the Serbs in the communities in which they predominantly live in northern Kosovo became the main point of contention. The historical character of this development consists in that Serbia has for the first time, if still not explicitly, then implicitly started to recognize the fact of Kosovo’s state independence. Belgrade’s political efforts consequently focus on the institutionally guaranteed rights of the Serb minority in Kosovo. Serbia’s demand for limited territorial autonomy for the four northern Kosovar municipalities with a Serb majority population has become the main point of dispute between Belgrade and Pristina.
The negotiations took place under considerable time pressure. The decision of the European Union to start accession negotiations with Serbia was on the agenda of the last summit of EU heads of government before the summer break at the end of June. A positive decision was made dependent on the outcome of the political dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. The EU Commission therefore set the parties a deadline of early April for the successful conclusion of the negotiations. When the Serbian delegation rejected a draft agreement with Kosovo presented by the EU foreign affairs officer, Ashton, in the last round of negotiations on April 2nd, everything looked as if the dialogue had failed and Serbia’s EU perspective blocked for a long time.
The agreement of April 19, 2013
On April 19, 2013, the delegations from Belgrade and Pristina met for an additional negotiation round. A modified proposal submitted by the EU representatives brought about the breakthrough. In the presence of Lady Ashton, the Serbian Prime Minister Dačić, his Vice Vučić and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Thači signed the First Agreement on Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations. An implementation plan was signed on May 21st with specific deadlines for implementing the agreement by the end of 2013.
The agreement essentially defines two points: the integration of the institutional structures in the four Serbian-majority communities in northern Kovoso and additional ethnic collective rights for the Serbian minority in the north. The agreement provides for the integration of the police and judicial structures in the north into the corresponding institutions of the state of Kosovo. The holding of local elections in the four municipalities “in accordance with Kosovar law” (so far, elections were organized within the framework of Serbia’s local elections) is another central component of the integration of the Serbian municipalities. On the other hand, the agreement guarantees the creation of a Serbian municipal association, in which, however, the participating municipalities only manage part of their municipal responsibilities jointly. In addition to the collective rights previously guaranteed in the Kosovar constitution, the agreement provides for the creation of the post of regional police commander for the north, who must be of Serbian nationality and who is proposed by the local authority. At the same time, a court of second instance will be created in the judiciary for northern Kosovo, with a majority of Serbian judges.