How Brussels became Aachen: A vacuum in the institutions and a change in the nature of negotiations

Dragutin Nenezić
Dragutin Nenezić je pravnik iz Beograda koji više od deset godina radi na Kosovu i Metohiji. Tokom rada u advokaturi, savetovao je i zastupao stranke u privatizacionim i imovinskim sporovima pred prištinskim sudovima, i vremenom se profilisao kao ekspert za pitanje imovine na Kosovu i Metohiji, u kom svojstvu je učestvovao u različitim forumima i inicijativama. Trenutno radi kao konsultant u oblasti infrastrukture, energetike i ekologije, kao i javnih politika.

By Dragutin Nenezic

Roughly three weeks have passed since the withdrawal from institutions, and less than a week since the (temporary) resolution/calming of the license plates crisis, and one can now say that there has been a major turning point in the Brussels process, i.e. that it has fundamentally changed its nature, partly due to such dynamics of events in Kosovo. Given that dynamic, as well as the number of texts about the withdrawal from institutions, I am free to draft in broad strokes those essential changes, instead of dealing with details and trying to process an unusually live matter at the moment.

As far as institutions are concerned, some things have become clearer since my previous text – the entire judicial staff in north Kosovo, as well as the customs service, have left their posts. On the other hand, Pristina’s reaction is clear only formally speaking, while it is fundamentally confusing – for starters, mayoral elections were called in all four northern municipalities, but only two of the four were dissolved? Also, there is a lot of strategizing, as above all in the judiciary and the police, Pristina is trying to unilaterally postpone the effects of withdrawal by creative interpretation of regulations, lack of action of authorities regarding resignations, etc.

If there are no major changes in the policy of Kosovo Serbs, it seems that the situation of temporary replacement of Serbian personnel with Albanian can easily be transformed into a permanent one at some future point, which for Kurti would be the final confirmation of his attachment to Slobodan Milosevic, reminiscent of the time when for example, personnel from Belgrade worked for the prosecutor’s office in the autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija, and the SPS won en masse in Drenica.

Granted, the Serbs, who have formally returned to the parliament, and some of whom, as rumor has it, may formally participate in the elections, are also strategizing. Such a situation can be characterized as a state of formally preserved, but essentially delegitimized Pristina constitutionalism, temporarily at least, with a tendency of complete delegitimization. If, however, the state of the Brussels process is evaluated, after last week’s announcement, it can be said that it definitely no longer exists in its original meaning.

The fact that a statement comprised of a few sentences was enough to change the essence of several dozens of documents speaks volumes about what kind of process it was. It became clear that „normalization“ cannot be comprehensive, but only in principle, and that a framework solution will be forced, while the details would be resolved sometime or never. On the other hand, the Brussels process is certainly no longer „technical“ but essential – because it no longer deals with „technical issues“ (which Kurti is also proud of), for which announcements are reserved – but with issues of statehood, regardless of the explicitness of the recognition, for which the Agreement is reserved.

The EU is starting to impose sanctions, as much as it can, and visa liberalization fell down as the first victim of Kurti’s never more openly anti-Serb policy, while for Belgrade, according to all appearances, the criteria from Chapter 35 are set to be changed, which are mostly rendered meaningless anyway due to the withdrawal from institutions. In the Brussels-newspeak, the interest in regional stability is a euphemism for the aggressive imposition of an agenda present there since the beginning, only now it has been laid bare by putting aside technical issues.

From the point of view of the geography category of Scattergories, the process should now perhaps be renamed Aachen, after the city in whose town hall France and Germany signed a cooperation agreement in 2019. Speaking of geography, it was clear even earlier that the US and the EU have different conceptions of solving the situation in Kosovo, as another in a series of transatlantic disagreements. Now their disagreement on the Kosovo issue has acquired a new dynamic and is taking the form of a competition with an ambiguous outcome. At first glance, the license plates crisis showed the impotence of the EU, as well as the full strength of the US influence on Pristina, since Pristina changed its position at the request of the US ambassador in Pristina.

However, the EU also bared its teeth when it responded in the manner described above, and the agreement regarding the plates itself was eventually reached under the auspices of the EU. If it is in any way relevant, the statements made to the public by Pristina officials reflect this dynamic – the role of the USA is loudly welcomed and supported, while the attitude towards the EU is hidden behind Kurti-like platitudes. I believe it is too early to assess what the outcome of that competition will be, but now it is certain that its reliable indicators will be the agreement towards which we are headed, the speed and conditions of its achievement, as well as the way of regulating the Serbian issue in Kosovo, which I have already written a little about.

ASM can be a concept that will, for the sake of nominal fulfillment of Belgrade’s demands, will be supported by both the US and the EU. However, I maintain that it will be a dysfunctional mechanism for the protection of the rights of Serbs, which may resemble The Joint Council of Municipalities in Croatia or even the Alliance of Serb Municipalities in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

To wrap up with geography, it is interesting that at the summit of the EU and the Western Balkans in Tirana on December 6th, each of these issues will be discussed – both the new approach to negotiations and the EU’s relationship with the US. It is even more interesting that this summit takes place about a week after the joint session of the two parliaments in the same city, as another in a series of steps towards full, formal unification, which I also wrote about before. The connection between these two events, in addition to the location and some of the participants, should be sought in the nature of regional integrative processes, i.e. „Open Balkans“ and the Berlin Process, which are also competing, but from which, as in some kind of joke, the Albanians will certainly profit.

Quite by chance, before the joint session of the two parliaments, the Albanian parliament approved the megaproject revitalization of the port of Durres, which will be carried out by none other than Muhammad Alabar. In addition to the obvious similarities with Belgrade Waterfront (except for Durres having access to the sea), this megaproject is organically connected with the construction of the railway Durres-Pristina, as well as NATO bases in Durres.

Finally, one possible result of all these developments could be the unification of Serbs from Kosovo on real rather than political grounds. Namely, by leaving the institutions, the Serbs from north of Kosovo are slowly coming close to the Serbs who live south of the Ibar bridges in terms of their position. If instead of the (now undefined) ASM, there were more effective mechanisms for the institutional protection of the interests of Serbs in Kosovo, they could equally protect Serbs wherever in Kosovo they may live or want to return.

Otherwise, the Serbs in Kosovo will be left to Kurti’s anti-Serbism, which is already taking on the proportions of a solid psychological disorder, and instead of individual institutionalization, it can easily result in legal institutionalization through changes to the Pristina constitution. In other words, the only way out of the current state of delegitimization is to amend the Pristina constitution, and it is clear in which direction Kurti is moving.

On the other hand, it is also clear that the direction advocated by Belgrade does not suit the interests of Serbs in Kosovo, since it does not offer them the only protection they can have in the current conditions. The final solution to this problem will certainly be dictated by someone, the only question is whether it will be in a place that will look more like the Wright-Patterson base, or the city hall in Aachen.

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