Kosovo Offers Concession on Serb Autonomy in Bid for Recognition

(Bloomberg) -- Kosovo’s government offered a concession on the key issue of autonomy for its ethnic Serb minority as the Balkan nation seeks to put its bid to join the Council of Europe back on track.

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Kosovo, which split from Serbia in 2008, wants to advance its international standing by joining the 46-member group that promotes democracy and human rights. That effort got a boost last month when the body’s parliamentary assembly recommended Kosovo’s membership.

But the decision has to be approved by the Strasbourg-based body’s foreign ministers, which meet Thursday and Friday. That meeting has taken the country’s bid off the agenda amid calls by the US and European leaders that Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, lift his blockade of a plan that would grant some autonomy to Serb-dominated communities in Kosovo.

Serbia, which refuses to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty, has rigidly opposed Kosovo’s accession to the group. President Aleksandar Vucic said he would consider withdrawing from the Council of Europe if Kosovo is admitted. Kosovo says the campaign against membership breeches a joint agreement between the two.

The decade-old autonomy plan, known as the Association of Serb-majority municipalities, is one of the biggest roadblock in normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo — a requirement for both countries’ efforts to join the EU. The US and some European leaders are now demanding that Kosovo adopt the Association in order to join the Council, which Kurti so far has said shouldn’t be a condition.

President Emmanuel Macron leaned on Kurti’s government last month, telling the premier in a phone call that “rapid and irreversible progress” on Serb autonomy is tied to the effort to join the Council of Europe.


The government in Pristina on Thursday abruptly agreed to send a draft of the Serb autonomy plan to the country’s top court, meeting an EU demand. Kosovo’s foreign minister, Donika Gervalla, said she would send the government’s draft to the Constitutional Court rather than one put forward by EU and US mediators.

“The draft ensures not only the full respect of the constitution and laws of the Republic of Kosovo, but at the same time prevents impermissible interventions from outside, both in the municipalities of Kosovo and in the whole country,” Gervalla wrote in a post on Facebook.

The top envoy said she sent a letter informing the Council of Europe that Kosovo is preparing the draft statute, which establishes “a mechanism for self-management, coordination and cooperation of municipalities with a Serb majority in Kosovo.” The draft will be sent to the court by the end of this month.

Read More: Macron Pressures Kosovo’s Kurti to Make Progress on Integration

The Association was initially agreed on in 2013. But it was blocked by Kosovo’s top court, which cited legal discrepancies in the text, enabling subsequent governments to stop it from moving forward.

The Serbian government called Kosovo’s offer a “deception,” signaling that Kurti was sidestepping the issue by not adopting the EU-sponsored draft on Serb autonomy.

“Kurti wants to avoid his obligations from dialog,” the government in Belgrade said in a statement.

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