North Kosovo Set for a Day of Tensions
North Kosovo Set for a Day of Tensions
The best deal Kosovo and Serbia can get
The best deal Kosovo and Serbia can get
Commentary / Europe & Central Asia 2 minutes

North Kosovo Set for a Day of Tensions

Today, 16 September, the EU and NATO have begun to implement a new custom regime between Kosovo and Serbia which is supported by the Kosovo government but rejected by Serbia and local Serbs who have set up their own roadblocks. The situation is tense and risks spiraling out of control. All sides should eschew violence and KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force, must retain the sole authority to maintain a safe and secure environment. The plan by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX, for establishing customs authority is legally sound, but it should not be implemented hastily and at the cost of more lives.

Unilateral actions to resolve complex problems in which the several parties hold deeply conflicting, emotion-driven views are highly risky and should generally be avoided. The situation in the north of Kosovo and the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia are not of a kind that could likely be settled to the full satisfaction of any one party. Whatever the immediate actions taken over the next days by the various parties, a long-term solution to the crisis will require further diplomatic and political efforts aimed at advancing the interests of all sides.

In this context, it is urgent that Kosovo, Serbia and the friends of both in the international community undertake promptly a number of measures designed in the spirit of compromise and mutual interest and coordinated with each other to the greatest extent possible:

  • Kosovo should unilaterally set up a Fund for the North to be filled by customs revenues (a large percentage of the take from gates 1 and 31) and to be spent on projects agreed by itself, the EU and “representatives of the community” to be named later.
  • EULEX should set up an “easy-pass” lane at gates 1 and 31 for residents of the border zones to pass with minimal fuss; in practice they should be allowed to bring in and out goods for personal use duty-free as is the case in many other areas of the world.
  • The customs regime should remain in place for at least six months as planned, ie implemented by EULEX with KFOR security.
  • The U.S. and EU should seize the opportunity to bring Belgrade and Pristina together on final status talks for the North based on the principle of territorial integrity and broadest possible autonomy.
  • The EU should give Serbia candidate status and set an early start date for accession negotiations. (If Serbia is in the accession pipeline, EU influence over Belgrade will grow; if it gives up temporarily, the EU has no alternative tools.)
  • The EU should offer Pristina a visa-free travel road map immediately with a view to concluding it within several (3-4) years (though this will be up to Pristina which will have to deliver) and explore other ways to get Kosovo into the accession pipeline before resolution of its dispute with Serbia and the non-recognisers.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.