The concrete implementation of the first agreement in the technical dialogue with Serbia started yesterday. This is the agreement on free movement which was announced at the very first rounds of meetings in Brussels, mediated by the EU and monitored by the US. The original problem was banal. Serbia did not allow the Kosovo citizens with Kosovo IDs or Kosovo car plates enter the territory of Serbia. Three categories of people were mostly affected by this total boycott of any document issued by the authorities of the Republic of Kosovo. A part of the Kosovo Albanians living in the Anamorava region could not visit their family members in the Presheva Valley. Likewise, tens of thousands of Kosovars living in Europe could not travel through Serbia with their cars to come to Kosovo using the Central Europe highways. And finally, the local Serbs too had to make double expenses as they needed Kosovo documents and insurances to live and move in Kosovo while for their second life in Serbia they needed to pay twice as much or break the law by moving with all kinds of illegal and semi-illegal car plates.
Kosovo and Serbia agreed that Serbia is to allow Kosovo citizens with identification cards of the Republic of Kosovo enter and exit Serbia, adding to that a piece of paper, similar to the solution that Greece used in relation to the citizens with Macedonian documents during the nineties. The car plates issued exclusively by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo got recognized too. A full reciprocity got in place in terms of the recognition of mutual insurance policies too.
For several months now, Serbia tried to bypass the agreement. Initially they insisted on issuing some improvised identification cards at border crossing points instead of the attached papers, but this was not accepted by the European mediators. For the citizens of Kosovo, it is only the Kosovo institutions that issue identification cards with a photo. The Serbian ones can only supplement bits of papers as symbolic acts, but in reality, it is the ID with a photo that confirms someones identity or origin.
Likewise, the problem of car plates issued by the Serbian authorities on behalf of the Kosovo citizens got solved with the kill two birds with one stone formula. They are now illegal for all the parties and during the next year they will also vanish from those parts of Kosovo where the Kosovo laws are actively defied. It is not that we are going to use force to eliminate them, but because it is too expensive for those using them. This is because Serbia decided about additional insurance for Kosovo cars in a value of 100 Euros, while based on reciprocity measures, the Kosovo side decided too for the same insurance, which makes the patriotic promotion of UR and PR car plates way too expensive.
Ironically, because of an exceptional greediness by the Serbian insurance companies, the citizens got freedom of movement from the politics, but this freedom got as expensive so that only a few ordinary citizens will cross the borders. MP Riza Halimi has now reacted against the high insurance price.
Prime Minister Thaçi and Deputy Prime Minister Tahiri say that Serbia is recognizing Kosovo through this agreement. It can be seen from this very first agreement that Serbia is de facto recognizing in an implicit way the exclusivity of the Kosovo state institutions as the only ones to have the right to manage and issue car plates and identification cards in Kosovo. They are reluctantly taking the first step towards recognition, without wanting it, but under threats to lose the EU candidate status, but, they are still taking the step. The same applies to the copies of cadastral books digitalized and certified by EULEX. An incontestable sentence that it is the Supreme Court of Kosovo as the final authority to deal with legal contests has been inserted there and that is recognition of reality.
Oh of course these are only the first steps, full of doubts and propaganda by Belgrade. Perhaps they will also sabotage the process, however, the normality between us has entered once and for all in the EU requirement list and this has proved to be the best mechanism to re-educate Eastern countries that refuse dialogue and good neighborhood. An almost Pavlovian conditionality, someone could say.
The only problem to final opening of all the Balkan roads remain the barricades in the north. They have already become a means in the hands of the Serbian extreme groups and of the pre-electoral politics in Serbia itself. Those who call for more police and military forces without precaution and focus, they forget that those who enforce opening of the roads there are 18-year old soldiers from Germany and Austria and that saving of lives is a much higher priority than fighting for every centimeter of the frozen roads in the north. Roads, but also the political and economic life in the north is intertwined, not only symbolically. The main German message, but also from other friends of Kosovo, from the State Department, to the ICO, International Steering Group or other European Capitals, is that the offer for the north should be a concrete investment in money, working hours, dedication and partnership with the citizens as part of the Ahtisaari (document), which is more and more confirmed as the final framework that dissolved the violent and unhappy relations for over a century between Kosovo and Serbia.
It is probable that another element could come up, that of barricades as announced by Vetevendosje against the Serbian goods. Regardless of how absurd an eventual political decision by a parliamentary party to use force to implement its party program, such a move could escalate the situation. In a longer term, that would still have limited effects, as the EU and the US (also pushed by companies like Nestle, Henkel, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Procter and Gamble who have bought assets in Serbia) will not tolerate propagation or activities against free movement and free trade.
Despite some limited internal threats, the biggest danger for Kosovo would be if Serbia lagged behind or refused to follow the European path. Apart from this causing real and unpredictable situation for the physical safety of Kosovo citizens, such delays would certainly affect the Kosovo journey towards the EU, as we too would have to be slowed down from the states that are friendly to Serbia. Therefore, Kosovo should be happiest when Serbia honestly embraces the European values of good neighborhood with Kosovo. Such a scenario (by all means idealistic in the context of the moves that Serbia makes only when it has too towards normalization) of a positive competition towards the EU should be the top political priority of both states.
Author is Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. The article has been written exclusively for the Express newspaper.