Details are still not official on the three accords reached on July 2 between Belgrade and Pristina. Apparently, the EU will present its record of the agreements to both parties, who will then become responsible for adhering to them without signing anything. As reported previously, the agreements include freedom of movement, provision of EULEX authenticated copies of civil registry documents from Serbia to Kosovo and mutual recognition of academic diplomas as certified by a yet-to-be-chosen independent authority. According to reporting so far, the agreement on freedom of movement will go into effect at some later date, either November 1 or when operationally feasible (i.e., when procedures and practices are in place to ensure compliance).
The agreements have come in for criticism from both sides. The political opposition in Kosovo charges that the agreement to not use “Republic of Kosovo” documents or license plates for travel in Serbia is a step back from the assertion of independence and statehood. Those opposition in Belgrade accuses the Tadić of giving in to international pressure and acting against the national interest.
The lead Kosovo negotiator, Edita Tahiri, defended the agreements as beginning the process of Serbian recognition of Kosovo and easing the ability of Kosovars to travel through Serbia. According to press reports, she also somewhat confusingly suggested that when the freedom-of-movement agreement goes into effect in November, there will no longer be any “parallel structures” in Kosovo and that all “illegal” documents and license plates from Serbia will cease to be valid. However, the agreement is quite unlikely to result in the dismantling of Serbian local institutions in Serb areas of Kosovo, especially in the north. And the lead Serbian negotiator, Borislav Stefanović, highlighted that the agreement will allow Serbs in Kosovo to use their Serbian IDs and plates to travel freely in Kosovo. A leader of southern Kosovo Serbs, Rada Trajković, reportedly welcomed the agreement for that reason, saying it would make the life of Serbs in Kosovo easier as until now they have been unable to travel freely with identity papers and driving licenses issued by Serbia.
In diplomacy and politics, one good way to tell if an agreement is balanced or not is to see who criticizes it. By this standard, the three agreements reached on July 2 – criticized by both Serbs and Kosovo Albanians – must be fairly well balanced. Most significantly, Kosovars can travel through Serbia using IDs and plates dating to UNMIK while Belgrade remembers the Serbs living south of the Ibar.
Expectations for further progress in the dialogue should remain modest. The root issues between Belgrade and Pristina are fundamental and, as Mr. Stefanović pointed out, when the two sides talk it is as if they come from different planets. The Europeans – who must live with the Balkans in their midst – should above all want continued peace and reduced tensions while the political issue of status remains unresolved. There is no reason to expect an agreement on status for some years. The EU should meanwhile give Serbia candidacy and a date by the end of this year. Progress on visa-free travel for Kosovars should also be a priority. Meanwhile in Kosovo itself, the Europeans should allow the parties to digest the agreements reached so far and give them time to build up the confidence to go further. This means encouraging all sides to avoid provocative actions that raise tensions and to work within the existing framework as possible. The existing framework remains UNSCR 1244, the UN and status neutrality.