Eichhorst: April 2013 agreement was concluded in full respect of Kosovo law

Angelina Eichhorst; Photo: Wikimedia Commons, EUinLebanon

“The decision of Kosovo’s Constitutional Court finding that all five chapters of the 25 August main elements/ general principles of the Association of Serb-majority municipalities are not in line with the constitution. This has angered Kosovo citizens and increased the numbers of those people supporting the protests against the formation of the Association/Community. Has the credibility of the EU as moderator in the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia been damaged?

Angelina Eichhorst: Let me first say on the Constitutional Court, the ruling clearly states the ‘First Agreement of principles governing the normalisation of relations’ is part of the internal legal system of Kosovo. It also says that the Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo is to be established. So this is clear. The Court also notes that the Statute for the Association/Community that will be elaborated shall be based on the framework laid out in the chapters of the 25 August 2015 main elements/general principles of the Association of Serb-majority municipalities. The Court adds that its “reasoning and the conclusions shall serve as a basis for the elaboration of the legal act and the Statute”. So, through its judgement, the Court provides guidance to be observed when the Statute for the Association/Community is drafted. It is important that this is well understood and well explained in Kosovo. And in fact, there has now been more debate, although the full and correct legal picture risks to be overshadowed by negativity from those who say they oppose the Association/Community on principled grounds, regardless of the political and legal reality. Interestingly, leading up to both Agreements, representatives from different political parties were involved in the entire process.. I hope that soon the important work on the Statute can start and that steps are taken to move forward – not backward. For the sake of Kosovo and the people of Kosovo.

How can such situations be avoided with regard to future agreements? It is of course right to condemn the violence of several hundred hooligans after Saturday’s protest, but if tens of thousands of people were drawn out in the streets, what can be said about the genuine opposition to the agreement?

AE: To protest is a democratic right. The European Union works with democratic governments and with democratic opposition. The opposition has to be democratic too. Violence is a red line in any shape and form. It is unacceptable. If political points can only be scored through violence then you end up in anarchy. Political differences should be resolved through dialogue, in the institutions that have been set up to provide an open and transparent debate and decision-making process, that guarantees inclusiveness but also accountability. The opposition has an important role to play to hold government to account.

The Serbian side wants to discuss cultural and religious heritage as part of the dialogue. Kosovo wants to discuss missing persons. Will new topics be opened in the dialogue before other agreements like that on courts are fully implemented?  If so, can you give any hints as to what the topics might be?

AE: I believe there is still a good list of topics that need to be discussed and worked out between both parties. Different subjects have been put forward at different points in time. The way the High Representative Federica Mogherini has worked so far, is that if both parties, Kosovo and Serbia, agree jointly to address new topics and discuss new agreements, then the EU facilitates the Dialogue and presents options for solutions. Both sides on 27 January, for example, agreed jointly to discuss railways and civil aviation as new topics. I believe this is the right way to move ahead, as we do not impose any subjects. Every step requires mutual consent. At the same time, we remain determined that all agreements need to be implemented. And we continue to see improvements in their implementation. This was again confirmed during the most recent high level meeting facilitated by the HRVP on 27 January. Both sides agreed to continue the work at technical level and there are incremental implementation steps on a daily basis.

Is there a gentleman’s agreement/secret agreement made in Brussels between Kosovo and Serbia in which Serbia promised to eventually shut down its municipal structures in Kosovo, among other things?

AE: The EU does not do ‘secret agreements’. And as for Pristina and Belgrade, I do not see both parties in the dialogue with a hidden agenda. This is nonsense. The April 2013 agreement was concluded in full respect of Kosovo law; municipalities in Kosovo should function in accordance with the Kosovo laws. Nobody said that implementation of such agreements would be easy. Nothing is easy these days, not in the Balkans, not in Europe, not anywhere. But when two entities have opted for the European path, when both have agreed to work out their differences, then difficult decisions have to be made, agreed and implemented. It is about political will. It is about turning CAN’Ts into CANs, dreams into plans. Yes, the situation in the North is very complex, very difficult. There are legitimate fears, worries, concerns amongst the people. These have to be addressed, explained and dealt with. By doing nothing, by not addressing the issue, one cannot move forward.

What is the legal basis for the agreement on judiciary, which foresees discrimination for hiring practices based on ethnicity? The agreement on judiciary has still not been officially made public and it is not a law. Do you believe that these types of political deals help build rule of law?

AE: The Dialogue agreement on Justice foresees the integration of judicial personnel employed by Serbia into the Kosovo judicial structures. This is the primary objective of this agreement. More generally it should be said that Kosovo Serbs remain at present under-represented in the Kosovo judicial system. The integration of judicial personnel currently employed by Serbia will include other minority representatives as well, Bosniaks in particular. It is the responsibility of the parties to publish the full text of the agreement and your question is a good reminder of the fact that communication is of essence.”

Source: European Union Office in Kosovo