EU ready to discuss special status for North Kosovo

WAZ.EUobserver has learned that EU member states would be prepared to discuss a special solution for Kosovo's northern part in order to broker a final compromise between Belgrade and Pristina. The talks would have to take place after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issues its advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo's independence and be held under precise conditions.

(Zeljko Pantelic and Augustin Palokaj, WAZ.EUobserver) Thursday, July 08, 2010

Several diplomats told this website that any potential dialogue categorically excludes reopening negotiations on Kosovo's status or partition. The talks would depend on a constructive approach from Serbia in the UN General Assembly after the ICJ advisory opinion. In addition, the authorities in Belgrade would have to show a more constructive behaviour towards Kosovo, albeit with no obligation to recognise its independence.

"The best Serbia can obtain for the northern part of Kosovo with a Serbian majority is some kind of special status, something similar to Alto Adige [South Tirol in Italy] or Northern Ireland. Belgrade could be a guarantor of such a special status, as Vienna is in the case of the Italian province with an Austrian majority, and Dublin in the case of Ulster," explained one of our sources, from a major EU country.

Special status would not mean that the region in question, stretching north from the River Ibar and amounting to 10 percent of Kosovo's territory, would be completely separated, the way that Republica Srpska is in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Kosovo's northern part is too small - it has just 1,000 square kilometres and less then 100 000 inhabitants. But Kosovo Serbs living there could enjoy broad autonomy, even more than granted under the so-called Ahtisaari plan, with Belgrade and Pristina as joint guarantors of that autonomy.

"Belgrade should think about this possibility, because it is not going to be on the table forever. Also, we hope that Serbia has learned something from Croatia and Bosnia, where the local Serb population has paid for Belgrade's unrealistic goals. Remember the so-called Z4 plan which offered autonomy for the Serbs in Croatia and was refused?" a Western diplomat said.

While Serbia would not be obliged to recognise Kosovo, a constructive approach towards Pristina's participation in regional organisations, trade, and European integration would be obligatory for Belgrade, diplomatic sources in Brussels explained. In return, Serbia would be given a smooth track towards EU membership. Meanwhile, Kosovo would get, as an incentive, a clear formal perspective to start negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU.

To get to this stage, the first step, and maybe the most difficult, test will be Serbia's handling of the ICJ advisory opinion in the UN General Assembly.

The three most important EU members - Germany, France and the UK - have already warned Serbia that they will not welcome any attempts to reopen the Kosovo status issue in the UN. They suggested to Belgrade writing a joint draft resolution on the ICJ advisory opinion, which would be acceptable for both Belgrade and the EU capitals. The Serbian side refused this offer and decided to write its own draft resolution. It will be presented in September at the UN General Assembly.

"In several contacts, high Serbian officials have been told that any campaign in the UN General Assembly against EU member states on the Kosovo issue will be perceived as hostile behaviour which will have inevitable consequences on the destiny of the Serbian application for EU membership. It is unimaginable that the Council of EU ministers will decide to open the procedure to grant candidate status to Serbia at a time when Serbia is advocating in the UN against EU countries," a senior EU diplomat told WAZ.EUobserver.

According to our source, the worst scenario for Serbia would be that Belgrade's resolution is passed by the UN General Assembly against the will of EU member states.

"In that case who knows how long the Serbian application will remain in the box," our contact added.

The coming months and the UN General Assembly could instead produce positive results and boost Serbia's European integration prospects.

Brussels-based EU diplomats believe that if Serbia keeps a low profile, avoiding inflammatory campaigns and aggressive lobbying, and if the language of its resolution is acceptable for EU member states, the big trio - Berlin, Paris and London - will be ready to open the procedure for Serbia's candidate status in October.

But if Serbia insists on reopening the status issue or works on the ground to partition Kosovo, its EU perspective would become even more complicated. Its relations with United States would be affected as well. "It is EU members states and not the General Assembly of the U