by Higerta Gjergji

On 26 June 2024, a new meeting was held in Brussels to “take stock of progress” in the EU-mediated dialogue. The new colloquium comes after a year of unresolved tensions and an outbreak of violence in May 2023. Violent protests erupted on 29 May, with the newly elected mayors of Zubin Potok, Zvečan, Leposavić and Kosovska Mitrovica engaging in guerrilla warfare. In Zvecan, in northern Kosovo, violent clashes broke out between a large group of Serb demonstrators and KFOR, a NATO security mission.

The demonstrators were protesting against the election of new ethnic Albanian mayors in Serb-majority municipalities after they walked out in protest, and surrounded the Zvecan town hall to prevent the new mayor from taking office. The Kosovar police, accompanied by KFOR troops, cleared the area using tear gas, sound bombs and truncheons and were met with heavy throwing of various objects, including stones, bottles and petrol bombs. These clashes are the latest in a series of tensions.

These clashes erupted just two months after the Ohrid Agreement of 18 March, in which the two countries agreed on an annexe to implement the very complicated Brussels Agreement of 27 February, which defined the specific obligations of Serbia and Kosovo without signing it.

The plan is based on eleven articles: good neighbourly relations between the two parties based on equal rights; mutual recognition of national documents and symbols; respect for the principles of the UN Charter concerning the sovereign equality of all states, their independence, autonomy and territorial integrity; peaceful settlement of disputes; avoidance of actions by Serbia to obstruct Kosovo’s accession process to international bodies; joint projects in economic development, connectivity, green transition and other key areas; exchange of permanent missions; creation of an EU-led committee to monitor the implementation of the agreement; compliance with all previous agreements.

And yet, more than a year on, Belgrade and Pristina have made little effort to comply with these agreements. The aim was to build on the limited progress made on the three elements already mentioned at the meeting on 14 September last year. In other words, the declaration on missing persons, the announcement of the joint monitoring committee and the presentation of the draft on the association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo.

The Brussels Agreement of 2013 for the normalisation of relations between the two Balkan countries after Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008 (although, apart from Serbia, there are Russia, China and five EU Member States, Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania and Greece, which do not recognise Kosovo’s independence and have in fact blocked its path to EU membership) provides for the establishment of “an association/community of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo”, open to “any other municipality if the members agree”.

An association created ‘by statute’, with a president, vice-president, assembly and council, and the ability to ‘cooperate in the exercise of its powers in a collective manner’ in the areas of ‘economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning’. The police and judiciary will be one for the whole of Kosovo, but with the power to form a regional police command for the four northern Serb-majority municipalities (North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic) and a panel of judges established by the Pristina Court of Appeal to deal with all Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo.

Ten years after the Brussels Agreement, there has been no substantial progress in implementing the 15 points on the ground, while tensions in northern Kosovo have increased over the past year. The Association of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo is seen by Belgrade as a governmental body to be established precisely based on the legally binding Brussels agreement, but it is also a potential political lever in the hands of Serbian President Aleksander Vučić to continue to indirectly control a disputed territory (the whole of Kosovo is still considered part of the country).

The challenge for Pristina – after the decisive change of direction of the nationalist Kurti government since the 2021 elections – is that the new association in Kosovo is nothing more than a replica of the failed Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serb-majority entity in the country that in recent years has led to increasing destabilisation of the country because of the excessive autonomy guaranteed to a pro-Russian political establishment.

On 26 June, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said after meetings with the two leaders that “no progress” had been made in Brussels on the implementation of the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. “The talks were, as expected, difficult as always, and in the end there was no trilateral meeting. Kosovo was not ready for this trilateral meeting. Serbia was ready to do it.”

Mr Borrell added: “Unfortunately, no progress was made today on the implementation of the agreement”. Brussels warned both Belgrade and Pristina that rejecting a compromise would jeopardise the chances of Serbia and Kosovo joining the bloc, which is mediating a dialogue between the former enemies. To keep tensions high at the base that does not allow. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s formal declaration of independence of 2008.

On the cover photo, map or cartography of Kosovo with capital Pristina and state borders with Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro ©Michele Ursi/