[Opinion] : What to do about the Association

Daniel Serwer - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


By Daniel Serwer,  @DanielSerwer , 

Washington, 17 May 2024, / – The inevitable question today for those who think about the Balkans is what to do about the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities. Belgrade wants it formed by statute inside Kosovo. The Americans and Europeans are insisting on it. The Kosovo authorities are resisting it. What should be done?

The original agreement

Pristina agreed to the Association in 2013, in what was termed the “First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations.” This unsigned agreement envisaged the Association having “full overview of the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning.” The central authorities could also delegate to it additional competences. There was a further agreement concluded in 1915, but the Kosovo Constitutional Court voided much of that agreement.

The 2013 agreement includes quid pro quo’s for Kosovo. It provides for the integration of Serbs into the Kosovo Police and judicial institutions, as well as application of the Kosovo legal framework in all the Serb municipalities. It also provided “that neither side will block, or encourage others to block, the other side’s progress in their respective EU path.”

This was a two-way deal, not a one-way concession. Vuk Draskovic, Serbia’s former foreign minister, reminded me of this during a visit to Washington last year.

Its failure

Neither Belgrade nor Pristina has fulfilled its part of the bargain. Albin Kurti, now Kosovo prime minister, opposed formation of the Association while in opposition. In power, he has continued to resist its implementation. Serbian President Vucic, who served as Deputy Prime Minister at the time of the original agreement, has continued to insist on it.

Moreover, talk in Belgrade about creating a “Serbian world” that includes the Serb populations of neighboring countries has raised suspicions. People in Kosovo worry that Serbia is trying to create with the Association a separate, autonomous area outside Pristina’s authority. Those suspicions gained credence when a Belgrade-backed proposal for the Association did just that. A similar Serb association in Bosnia led to war in the 1990s.

In the meanwhile, Belgrade has failed to fulfill its part of the deal. It has never given up trying to block Kosovo progress towards the EU. This includes its recent efforts to bar Kosovo accession to the Council of Europe. Serbs have withdrawn from Kosovo institutions in the four northern municipalities. Serbia also sponsored a boycott of elections there, kidnapped three Kosovo police from Kosovo territory, organized a rent-a-riot that injured NATO peacekeepers, and plotted a terrorist attack last September intended to provide an excuse for a Serbian military incursion. Each of these efforts was a challenge to the legal framework that Belgrade had agreed would be applied throughout Kosovo.

Diplomatic malpractice

There is nothing new about failed agreements between Kosovo and Serbia. Many of the more technical agreements from before 2013 achieved only partial or belated implementation. But for reasons only the diplomats involved can explain, in this case the Americans and Europeans promised Belgrade implementation of the Association without any quid pro quo for Kosovo.

In an op/ed the Americans promised the Association won’t be allowed to become a new level of governance. But they have not been willing to commit to that in a formal government agreement. The Europeans have levied “consequences” (i.e. sanctions) on Kosovo for failing to establish the Association. They have also at the last minute delayed consideration of Kosovo’s application to join the Council of Europe. The Europeans imposed this new condition even though Kosovo had met a long-standing requirement to acknowledge a Serb monastery’s property rights.

This is diplomatic malpractice. I suppose the intense pressure will make Kosovo cough up a proposed statute for the Association. But it makes no sense to condition accession to the Council of Europe on its implementation. Membership in that otherwise obscure institution would give Serbs in Kosovo access to the European Court of Human Rights. That provides a serious forum for resolution of ethnic minority complaints. Serbia, the US, and the EU should welcome Kosovo interest in joining it.

Give to get

In addition to pressuring Kosovo, the US and EU should remind Serbia of its obligations under the 2013 agreement. Serbs should re-enter the Kosovo institutions and participate in elections. Belgrade should end its campaign against Kosovo membership in European institutions. Serbia should deliver its rioters and terrorists to Kosovo for trial, as evidence that Belgrade accepts the Kosovo legal framework. I have no doubt but that Pristina would view the Association differently if Belgrade fulfilled all these conditions.

Serbia should give in order to get. That is what they 2013 agreement on the Association requires.


Daniel Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.         

This opinion was first published at website.  

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of .

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