A forced compromise for Belgrade and Pristina

  

The EU-sponsored talks between Belgrade and Pristina could trigger an early general election in Serbia, Editor-in-chief of BETA news agency writes.

The following is an editorial published by BETA, the EurActiv partner agency in Serbia.

The latest round of negotiations in Brussels on 4 March between the Serbian and Kosovo prime ministers, Ivica Dačić and Hashim Thaci, has failed to result in a crucial breakthrough, since no agreement has been made on the executive authorities for Serb municipalities in Kosovo, which Belgrade is requesting. There is not much time left for an agreement, as in mid-April the European Commission and EU Foreign Policy and Security High Representative Catherine Ashton will assess the progress achieved in the talks, which is important for both Belgrade and Pristina. Belgrade wants to get a date for the start of negotiations on EU membership and Pristina wants the same for the process of its association.

The EU is particularly interested in a solution, because this negotiating process has nearly fully been placed under its jurisdiction, with the US only sporadically piping in with an "opinion," or their representative meeting with Dačić and Thaci "on the margins" of the Brussels talks. The achievement of an agreement would win European diplomacy an important foreign policy point and strengthen its credibility.

The Serbian government claims to have offered much in the negotiations so far and that it is sincerely in favour of compromise, accusing the Pristina government of not contributing to the agreement in any way. Belgrade's position is that the Serbs in Kosovo must have "autonomy within autonomy," which will be fitted into Pristina's authority, in tune with the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244. Serbia accepts "the interim rule (in concordance with 1244)" of Pristina in the entire territory of Kosovo, but requests that the Serbs in the nine municipalities in which they make up the majority be given institutional tools to "demonstrate their specialness."

As far as the Belgrade government is concerned, the failure of the talks would be the least desirable scenario. Serbian Government has essentially taken a great risk by being very cooperative with the EU, offering concessions with regard to Kosovo. The ruling parties' electorate is traditionally not pro-western and has a conservative, nationalistic stance toward the issue of Kosovo.

If the talks, and consequently European integration, fell through, Vučić and Dačić would have trouble explaining to their own supporters why they had offered too much only to gain too little. On the other hand, failure in the negotiations with Pristina and the stagnation in European integration stemming from it would additionally lower the European sentiments of the Serbian citizens and provide wind in the sails of the conservative option. That would also weaken the chances of economic recovery and improvement of the social situation in the country.

In such conditions, an early general election is becoming an increasingly likely option, especially after the latest statements by deputy Prime minister Aleksandar Vučić, the most popular politician in the country, that the idea "can be considered" after the country gets a date for membership talks with the EU.

Belgrade has over the past few days or so tried to influence Brussels and Washington in order to get Pristina to concede, but does not seem to have had much success. The Serbian authorities are aware that the situation is not exactly great for them, hence they have slowly started preparing the public for unfavourable solutions. Aleksandar Vučić early this week said that "there will be no ideal news" regarding Kosovo.

The solutions proposed by Belgrade have been only partly accepted in the dialogue. Kosovo Premier Thaci accepts the separateness of Serb municipalities in Kosovo, but not the powers Belgrade is seeking for them. While Serbia, according to the negotiating platform passed by the government, is requesting independence for the local Serbs in nearly all forms of government, with the observation of Kosovo laws, Pristina for now only allows jurisdictions in education and health care.

The possible acceptance of Belgrade's proposal for the organisation of Serb autonomy in Kosovo would require major changes to the legal systems of Serbia and Kosovo. If those solutions were accepted, Serbia would have to pass a constitutional law that would "legalise" the new situation in Kosovo, given that the current Constitution (from 2006) treats Kosovo as an indivisible part of Serbia, a part fully subject to Serbian laws.

It is impossible to change the Constitution quickly, because the procedure is very arduous and slow, which is why the adoption of a constitutional law could be a pragmatic solution.

The procedure for amending the Serbian Constitution is pretty complicated and carries potential risks for the ruling coalition. Still, one should note that a significant step forward in resolving this issue in the manner proposed by Serbia now would most likely also be backed by the pro-European part of the opposition.

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