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Brussels Agreement on the path to recognition

The original article was published in Koha Ditore.


Brussels Agreement on the Path to Recognition

The rules of the international system are made by governments. Governments normally see it as their first duty to protect and preserve the territorial integrity of the state they represent. Hence, the international system is stacked against those seeking independence without the consent of the central government. The history of the destruction of secessionist Biafra by Nigeria from 1967-70, or the fate of the Catalans in Spain more recently, amply demonstrate this fact.

Hence, it is not surprising that Kosovo has faced a massive uphill struggle in obtaining, and then consolidating, its independence in the face of opposition from Serbia. This was demonstrated in the pressure cooker that was the Rambouillet conference, in the Ahtisaari negotiations that followed, and in the subsequent negotiations led by Brussels. At each step, there was a strong sense that Serbia would have to be compensated for concessions relating to Kosovo and, eventually, for the actual loss of Kosovo.

Thus far, Serbia has tried to exploit this phenomenon, seeking to extract more and more concessions, first from the mediators, and then from Kosovo, at each stage, without in the end committing to anything in return. Kosovo, in turn, has pointed to the fact that it has already made ample provision for ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, and other issues of legitimate concern for Serbia.

Indeed, in the Ahtisaari process that led to Kosovo’s declaration of independence, Kosovo was compelled to make important compromises. Some argued at the time that these amounted to a derogation from Kosovo’s sovereignty at the moment sovereignty was finally achieved. In reality, though, these were not really concessions to Serbia, or to Serbia alone. These were part of a compact with the organized international community as a whole, before Kosovo could seek admittance to the circle of sovereign states. There would have been no acceptance of Kosovo among the community of states had it not freely entered into commitments concerning its minorities and other issues addressed by the Ahtisaari document.

This strategy paid off. Despite Serbia’s increasingly desperate campaign against recognition, the situation remains that over half of the states of the world have recognized Kosovo. Moreover, the concessions made at the time were not as dramatic as is sometimes portrayed. Most, like advanced standards for the treatment of minorities, have proven to be good practice in any event.

The reason is that Kosovo is a liberal democracy dedicated to the rule of law. Acceptance of a strong system of human and minority rights is not really a loss. It is a strength. Moreover, early implementation of these standards will pay off—any candidate for EU admission would have to demonstrate that it fully accepts, and complies with, these requirements. Kosovo is therefore now ahead in its region in terms of human rights performance, freedom of the press, and efforts to stem the stifling effect of corruption.

In fact, the present situation offers rather a unique experience for Kosovo. For once, its perennial position of structural disadvantage vis-à-vis Serbia in the international system has been reversed. Kosovo has fulfilled, and continues to fulfil, all its obligations under the Ahtisaari deal that led to its independence. Now suddenly, Serbia has finally come under pressure to perform.

This pressure is linked to Serbia’s EU accession process. Under Chapter 35 of its accession criteria, it has to demonstrate that it has achieved legally binding, comprehensive normalization of relations with Kosovo. The EU could not admit a new member that actively maintains a claim to the territory of one of its neighbours, including in its own constitution. In the end, Serbia will have to recognize Kosovo if it does not wish to be left out in the cold, isolated in the middle of Europe.

Of course, at present, it is not clear that the population in Serbia would actually still favour joining the EU. Yet, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić can hardly afford to be the one man in the history of his nation who lost the opportunity to join the Western community of values. With the ever-increasing isolation of the Russian Federation in the wake of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the hand of friendship extended by Moscow as an alternative to Euro-Atlantic integration may look somewhat less inviting in this context.

Kosovo had been promised at the outset of the EU-led process of dialogue with Serbia that comprehensive normalization is in fact code for the requirement that Serbia must eventually recognize Kosovo. However, given the change in public opinion in Serbia, the EU and the US have felt under pressure to try and tie Serbia into the EU before its population loses faith altogether in the prospect of European integration. This means that once more Kosovo risked having its interests sacrificed at the altar of geo-strategic calculations of the great powers.

In particular, there was the possibility of a softening of the position that had been taken by the great leaders of the previous generation, like Angela Merkel. She had been unshakeable in her demand that Serbia cannot be seriously considered for EU membership if it does not recognize Kosovo. However, with the departure of the Merkel generation, there was a risk that this requirement might be diluted. If Serbia was unwilling to move on the issue of outright recognition of Kosovo, some argued that it might be necessary to clear its path towards Europe by softening that requirement. This might be necessary in order to try and bind Serbia into the West before it is too late.

This concern has now been overcome. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Serbia’s attempt to please both the Russian invaders under President Putin and the Western alliance supporting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have not gone over well in Washington and Brussels. In an unusually tough position, Serbia has suddenly faced significant pressure to decide, once and for all, whether it sees itself as part of the West, or as a client of the former Soviet Empire.

Kosovo has had to manoeuvre carefully in this environment. Through its attitude in the normalization process, it controls the key criteria for Serbian accession to the EU and broader integration with the West. If it overplayed its hand, Western leaders might conclude that their more important interest would be to lure Serbia into their camp. This might mean loosening the understanding of what ‘normalization’ actually means, including perhaps abandoning the requirement for express recognition of Kosovo. This would disempower Kosovo in the process.

On the other hand, if Kosovo played its hand carefully, it would consolidate its position. In fact, it could, for the first time in its history, reverse the balance of interests in the international system that had always resulted in an uneven playing field in favour of Serbia.

Now, suddenly, it was Serbia that was confronted with a very difficult situation. It would need to formally abandon its constitutionally enshrined claim that Kosovo is its own territory. It would need to overcome its own nationalistic narrative that somehow claims Kosovo as its own historic heartland. And it would have to formally recognize. These are very tough asks that, one has to admit, are not at all easy for Serbia.

On the other hand, it was also clear that there would be no immediate decision on recognition of Kosovo by Serbia. No one expected a U-turn of such a magnitude at this point. If so, would this mean that the EU accessions process for Serbia, at present stalled, would remain in abeyance, at a time when it was feared that Belgrade was drifting into Moscow’s orbit?

This is where the German-French initiative came in. While the duo of the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrel, and of his Special Representative on normalization, Miroslav Lajčák, were tinkering with their own possible framework for an eventual normalization deal, the two capitals, also backed by Italy, put forward an in some ways ingenious proposal.

Germany recalled its own experience of the détente in the 1970s. Up to that point, East and West Germany did not recognize one another. This meant that they could not enter the United Nations. Their unresolved relations caused other problems in managing the international relations of both. To address this common problem, in 1972 both Germany’s concluded the Basic Treaty. In it, they accepted that there would remain differences in their interpretation of their respective legal status. However, they also agreed to what amounted to de facto recognition.

In particular, they acknowledged that the one state cannot exercise its jurisdiction in relation to the territory of the other, or represent what happens in the territory of the other state internationally. They also agreed to exchange diplomatic missions, although they did not quite call them embassies. Instead, they were Permanent Missions. And it was clear that both, together, would be admitted to the United Nations and other international organizations.

The initial Franco-German proposal offered a copy of that agreement of 1972, with some additions and omissions. The concept was that both sides would take a big step towards normalization of their relations in practice, leaving the one issue of formal recognition to a second step in the form of the final, comprehensive and legally binding normalization agreement.

For Serbia, this might be attractive, as it removed the pressure for recognition for the moment. For Kosovo, there were several important and useful elements in this approach, but it was also not free of risk.

First, it had to be assured that the EU would not consider this initial agreement as fulfilling the requirement of comprehensive normalization, i.e., clearing the path to EU membership for the sides without actual recognition. Second, there was the risk that this initial agreement might provide cover for Serbia to delay achieving the final, comprehensive normalization forever more. Third, the agreement provided for the confirmation of all previous agreements reached in the Brussels normalization process. This included the first Brussels agreement of 2013, which had introduced the controversial concept of an Association of Serb-majority Municipalities.

These three factors led Kosovo to hesitate. This attitude risked overturning the structural inequality that, for the first time, actually favoured Kosovo. Now, given this hesitation, it seemed that both, Serbia and Kosovo, were equally obstructing the normalization process—a process that for the USA and the EU was not really primarily about Kosovo, but about geopolitics involving Russia and its grab for Serbia.

Indeed, there was a tendency to blame Kosovo—the victim of severe repression and disenfranchisement by Serbia, and of the deaths and massive displacements during the conflict of 1999—for obstructing progress, rather than Serbia, which had not moved one inch on the essential issue of accepting the legal identity of Kosovo.

Hence, Kosovo, along with Serbia, came under quite heavy diplomatic pressure from its Western partners. In addition to EU states, in particular Germany and France, joined by Italy, the US became heavily involved. Kosovo was threatened with a loss of support from its traditional allies and with diplomatic isolation—a significant issue for a state like Kosovo that only commands partial international recognition, and that still relied on funds from abroad to develop its economy.

In this situation, it seemed fairly clear what Kosovo had to do. It had to regain the diplomatic initiative and restore the imbalance in interests that had finally favoured its own position. And, it had to do so without being forced into concessions that it could not make.

In pursuing these aims, Kosovo could profit from elements of the policy of its incoming Prime Minister, Albin Kurti. He had insisted from the beginning that the normalization process was essentially about recognition, not about more and more sectoral agreements on the one or other issue. More than that, recognition was only a step towards a broader aim—to enable Kosovo to fully consolidate its position in the world, assume its responsibilities as a member of the UN and pursue EU accession. To him, it seemed, the whole set of previous EU mediated normalization agreements was less relevant than this overall aim.

This attitude was inconvenient for the facilitators in Brussels. While they all knew that ultimately normalization would need to involve recognition, they also knew that it was not immediately likely as an outcome. Hence, they preferred to tinker around the edges of normalization and add further partial agreements on specific issues. The Kurti government instead tried to put recognition back at the centre of the process.

This strategy received a significant boost when US President Biden expressed his support for the EU-led normalization process, and added that ‘this process must be centered on mutual recognition.’ Somewhat later, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz affirmed: ‘It is clear that an agreement must ultimately also clear up the question of the recognition of Kosovo, because it is not conceivable that two countries that don’t recognize each other become members of the EU.’

Finally, on 6 July of last year, the EU Parliament, which in part controls the mandate of the EU facilitation as a key institution of the Union, adopted a resolution which noted that the Brussels dialogue needed to achieve ‘a comprehensive, legally binding normalization agreement based on mutual recognition.’

It was clear that the Franco-German initiative, as received by the EU Facilitators, did not offer formal, de-jure recognition. But it did offer the elements that suggested recognition in fact, if not in law. The Basic Agreement, to which both sides committed themselves on Monday, demands that both parties shall develop ‘normal, good neighbourly relations with each other on the basis of equal rights.’ They will conduct themselves according to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, including, ‘sovereign equality of all states, respect for the independence, autonomy and territorial integrity, the right of self-determination, the protection of human rights, and non-discrimination.’

These are of course the very key obligations that characterize relations among fully sovereign states. Indeed, given the reference to sovereign equality of states, respect for independence and the right to self-determination, it is hardly possible to doubt that Belgrade has in fact acknowledged the existence of Kosovo as a sovereign state through its acceptance of this agreement. That said, President Vučić of course immediately downplayed the importance of this acceptance of the 11 Articles and Preamble of the Basic Agreement.

The Basic Agreement adds that the parties shall settle all their disputes by peaceful means only and it clarifies that the firm obligation in international law prohibiting the threat or use of force in the relations of states applies. Again, these legal requirements apply to entities that are in fact states.

This clarity is balanced by a reference in the preamble to the Basic Agreement which notes that it is ‘without prejudice to the different view of the Parties on fundamental questions, including questions of status.’ Hence, it is clear that the agreement does not amount to formal recognition. The entities will treat one another in the manner of sovereign states, without formally accepting the status of each other as states that maintain diplomatic relations with one another. Again, this would normally be considered a de facto recognition, although there will undoubtedly be extensive academic dispute as to whether that label applies to this agreement or not, once it is fully concluded.

Through its title, the agreement also addresses the second major concern of Kosovo. The Basic Agreement charts a ‘Path’ to normalization. That is to say, it is step one towards comprehensive, legally binding normalization. And as the EU Parliament and others have authoritatively confirmed again and again, normalization must, in the end, be centered on recognition. Step two must follow on from step one, and it must do so in a clear and reasonably short timeframe.

Of course, while its substance has been agreed and cannot be changed at this point, the Basic Agreement itself is not yet complete. In its final form it will include an Annex addressing implementation. Kosovo will need to press hard for definite timelines, not only in relation to implementation of the Basic Agreement and previous texts, but also in relation to completion of normalization.

The further discussions on implementation are scheduled to take place in Ohrid on 18 March, indicating an accelerated schedule with a view of completing the Basic Agreement. A key element of the discussion will relate to the entry into operation of some of the 11 Articles, including issues of key concern to Kosovo. This includes the mutual recognition by the parties of their respective documents and national symbols, such as passports, diplomas, licence plates, and customs stamps. Similarly, there are important provisions relating to Serbia’s conduct in view of Kosovo’s campaign for membership in international organizations. There is even provision for the exchange of Permanent Missions, following the example of the two Germany of managing their diplomatic relations.

Serbia has already indicated that it will demand that Kosovo has to perform its obligations first. In particular, much discussion has focused on implementing the first Brussels agreement on normalization of 2013 that provided, amongst other things, for the establishment of an Association of Serb-majority Municipalities.

Kosovo has resisted acting on this agreement, arguing that it cannot accept the introduction of a third layer of government that might disrupt the state, much like the status of Srpska disrupts the unity and integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Moreover, the 2013 text also provides for other obligations, not all of which were implemented by the other side as was foreseen. In addition, Kosovo points to the fact that it formally ratified the agreement, while Serbia did not. Serbia has also failed to implement a whole series of other agreements emanating from the Brussels process, and it is not reasonable to focus solely on performance in relation to this one alone.

More fundamentally, as Catherine Ashton, the former EU foreign policy chief who led the negotiations in 2013 confirms, the then government of Kosovo itself proposed the Association. This was meant to be compensation for an undertaking of Serbia to dismantle its parallel structures of government, especially in the North of Kosovo, and to permit Kosovo to exercise its own sovereign jurisdiction over all of its territory without hindrance or interference. Needless to say, that has not come to pass.

That said, Serbia succeeded in utilizing the issue of the first Brussels agreement as the tool to reverse its disadvantage in the entire normalization process. It managed to persuade the EU, and in the end also apparently the US, that the adoption of the Association statute by Kosovo would be an essential element of further progress. Kosovo’s failure to implement its undertaking of 2013 was transformed and suddenly taken to be the key blockage in the normalization process, rather than Serbia’s failure to move towards recognition. Given the geo-strategic approach to the issue, including the realignment of the world after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, this exposed Kosovo to significant pressure.

The advice given to Kosovo for some time was to copy the example of the Ahtisaari talks. There, Kosovo successfully anticipated that its partners would take minority rights as the key issue where they expected most resistance from Kosovo. Hence, Serbia would use this issue as the principal stick to beat Kosovo with, trying to put Kosovo in the position of the obstructionist party.

However, Kosovo foiled that plan. Instead of waiting for the international partners to impose a solution against its resistance, and without its input into its design, Kosovo went ahead and tackled the issue itself. It launched a broadly inclusive process of consultation with its minority communities, studied European practices and standards, and offered a highly detailed vision for minority protection. This totally blunted the sword that was meant to beat Kosovo in the negotiating process. Instead, the issue disappeared from the list of contested items and Kosovo’s vision was largely adopted.

Similarly, in this case, it was thought that Kosovo could use the fact that its Constitutional Court had set limits to what an Association can be and what it can do under the Kosovo Constitution. As in the Ahtisaari process, here Kosovo might set about drafting its own vision of the statute, in full compliance with Kosovo law and practice, and with reference to appropriate international examples. This would remove the issue of the Association from the agenda and force the EU and Serbia to move on with the actual substance of the talks.

It is fair to say that the Kosovo government did not respond with enthusiasm to this idea, fearing that engagement with the Association issue might in the end lead to the imposition of an unacceptable solution. However, the history of Kosovo’s negotiations suggests that inaction is what leads to the imposition of an even more unacceptable proposal by outsiders.

Still, Kosovo’s reluctance on this point proved useful when it came to the drafting of the Basic Agreement that has now been endorsed by both sides. There is no express reference to the Brussels agreement of 2013. The words ‘Association of Serb-majority Municipalities’ do not appear anywhere in the text. Instead, there is oblique reference to ensuring an appropriate level of self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo and ability for service provision in specific areas. ‘Self-management’ replaced the term ‘self-government’ in the text in a concession to Kosovo.

Kosovo received assurances from its partners that it can develop a vision for meeting this requirement that does not create a third layer of government in Kosovo. Instead, it is a matter of coordination of competences already enjoyed by the relevant municipalities. These do not take executive decisions as one body—instead it is a mechanism to cooperate principally in relation to the practical, lower-level issues of service delivery.

It is also important to ensure that any mechanism for functional coordination among municipalities does not offend against the obligation of non-discrimination. This was the case in the Sejdić and Finci proceedings before the European Court on Human Rights, where it was found that certain provisions based in the Dayton agreements had to be struck down on grounds of ethnic or religious discrimination.

Moreover, as was noted above, it has to be remembered that the Association proposal reflected in the agreement of 2013 was meant to balance a matching undertaking given by Serbia. That was the undertaking to dismantle parallel structures in the North. This requirement, largely unimplemented, would need to be re-emphasized. Such an understanding might also lessen Kosovo’s concern about permitting funding from Serbia. In international practice, neighbouring states do routinely offer funding for kin minorities abroad, but within the confines of the jurisdiction of that neighbouring state and in a fully transparent way.

Serbia might answer that Article 10 of the Basic Agreement confirms the obligation to implement all Dialogue Agreements, which remain valid and binding. In the first place, this applies equally to Kosovo and Serbia, and to all agreements, not the 2013 text alone. It is not clear why only Kosovo’s performance is being considered, and why only one particular issue is being singled out. Second, as concerns the 2013 text, its provisions must now be interpreted in light of the wording both sides have accepted in the Basic Agreement. This wording is in line with the vision noted above.

Serbia might also insist that the mechanism for drafting the Statute needs to be the one foreseen in 2013. However, a decade has passed since then and many of the relevant local institutions are not at present staffed. Instead, Kosovo can offer to engage in very broad consultations, also and especially with its ethnic Serb citizens in the affected municipalities, and emerge with a credible draft.

Any other approach would be illusory. If the statute is meant to be adopted and actually delivered as part of the Kosovo legal order, it has to be developed at a level of high technical competence, and in view of the earlier pronouncement of the Kosovo Constitutional Court on this issue. Otherwise, the government would not be able to ensure its actual adoption and sustainability over time.

Another area of concern relates to the position of the Serb Orthodox Church. Somehow the facilitation seems to assume that this is an area that has not yet been exhaustively addressed. However, there exists a very high level of provision for the protection of religious freedoms in Kosovo under the Constitution. Moreover, the Ahtisaari document, which is a superior part of Kosovo’s legal order, enshrined very broad protection for the Serb Orthodox religious community, for its property and for the historic, cultural and religious sites associated with it. Indeed, one might argue that it might be unwise to re-open this chapter, given what is otherwise already set in stone.

The provisions adopted at the time were very much adopted under the impression of the war and its aftermath, including the riots of 2004. A rather rigorous system of specially protected zones was imposed, which effectively protects the sites, but also isolates them from easy contact with their co-religionists and the communities in their immediate environment. If these provisions had been drafted now, it would probably not have been felt necessary to maintain such a rigorous system of protection, which isolates the Church rather than integrates it into life in Kosovo.

The Basic Agreement refers to existing European models of cultural heritage protection as a guide on this issue. These do not, of course, even approach the level of protection at present provided for the Serb Orthodox Church and its sites and practices. Again, it is not clear whether re-opening these issues would actually assist the case of the Serb Orthodox Church.

Be that as it may, reassuringly there is no move from the side of Kosovo to question what has been agreed or to walk it back. The impression is that the Kosovo government also has little or no hesitation to engage with the Serb Orthodox Church on any issues they wish to raise relating to the implementation of the existing system, and on suggestions they may have to improve their exercise of the freedom of religion.

Conversely, Kosovo may wish to offer thoughts on how its support for the maintenance and preservation of the religious and cultural heritage sites can be utilized more effectively, without prejudice to the guaranteed rights and autonomy of the Church. There are millions of Euros earmarked by the Kosovo government for this purpose that have not been drawn on by the Serb Orthodox Church.

Similarly, the Ahtisaari document obliges the sides to cooperate to make the cultural and religious heritage sites accessible, not only to pilgrims and religious parties, but also for purposes of cultural education and tourism. Again, as the existing provisions confirm, this must not impinge upon the exercise of religious freedoms and practices and the devotional life of the religious communities.

The Basic Agreement also refers to minority rights. Again, Kosovo’s provision for members of its minority community far exceed the provisions available elsewhere in Europe, or provided for in the applicable Council of Europe standards. Presumably Kosovo’s government would not have any hesitation in hearing more from its ethnic minorities, including the ethnic Serb community, about any specific proposals there may be to improve the situation yet further. The evidence thus far is that Kosovo is broadly seen to be in compliance with its very high level of existing provision. Where issues persist despite Kosovo’s best efforts, they do not principally concern the members of the ethnic Serb community (Roma, for instance).

Similarly, there does not seem to be any objection to create a special, dedicated contact mechanism within the government of Kosovo, also in relation to the ethnic Serb community, as the Basic Agreement suggests. This is indeed good practice elsewhere in Europe and it would not be problematic to act on this provision in the Basic Agreement.

Serbia itself has confirmed in its recent reports to the Council of Europe that it favours the practice of bilateral minority treaties it has concluded with most of its neighbouring states. This suggests that it does recognize the principle of reciprocal interest in the fate of kin minorities across borders. Kosovo will likely seek to engage in discussion on this point in the light of reporting by the Council of Europe and others on Serbia’s performance, also in relation to its ethnic Albanian community, under reference to minority entitlements and good neighbourly relations in the Basic Agreement.

The provisions in the Agreement addressing membership in international organizations are also of interest. For Kosovo, these must be obligations of result, rather than intention.

In truth, even if Serbia were to encourage Kosovo’s UN membership, that might not itself resolve the issue, given the Russian veto on the Security Council. Russia’s opposition to Kosovo’s membership would likely persist, given Pristina’s clear stance in relation to the invasion of Ukraine.

Other questions of membership are only in part dependent on the attitude of Serbia. For instance, the 27 states of the EU could exercise a decisive influence in ensuring Kosovo’s admission to the Council of Europe. The expectation is that they will now do so, given the constructive attitude shown by Kosovo in relation to the Basic Agreement. Hopefully, this may also assist the five EU members states that have not yet recognized Kosovo to at least start rethinking their position, or to contribute to thinking about how the consequences of that position can be overcome in relation to Kosovo’s further steps towards membership.

The agreement confirms that the parties proceed from the assumption that neither of the two can represent the other in the international sphere or act on its behalf. This is a very important concession by Serbia, which still claims the authority to deal with matters within Kosovo’s domestic jurisdiction in its relations with international actors.

Moreover, the text states that ‘Serbia will not object to Kosovo’s membership in any international organization.’ Serbia had fought hard to remove the word ‘any’ from the text and lost that particular battle. Kosovo might have preferred a more positive wording, obliging Serbia to support its applications for membership. At least Kosovo can interpret the wording chosen to mean that Serbia must not vote against Kosovo’s membership, which would clearly be a form of objection.

In relation to the EU, the Basic Agreement obliges the parties not to block, or encourage others to block, the other party’s progress in their respective EU path based on their own merits. It will be important to ensure that this undertaking persists, should one state obtain EU membership before the other. The state having obtained membership first must not be entitled to exercise its veto in relation to the candidacy of the second.

Finally, the EU envisages a significant and special investment and financial support package for joint projects of the parties in economic development, connectivity, green transition and other key areas. This facility would be activated once the parties have progressed in implementation of the Basic Agreement. Kosovo would most likely wish to include projects on developing a common understanding of their recent history, accountability and reconciliation.

Overall, therefore, the Basic Agreement as it stands represents a positive step forward for Kosovo. It amounts to recognition in fact, if not yet in law.

In securing the agreement, Kosovo has taken care not to sacrifice other essential interests. This includes the understanding that the agreement is part of the path to eventual, recognition-centred comprehensive normalization in a legally binding form.

Kosovo will need to move ahead on issues that previously caused hesitation, including functional cooperation of municipalities, but it can do so on the basis of the wording agreed in the Basic Agreement, which is a step forward.

On other issues, such as contacts with the Serb Orthodox Church or a mechanism of communication with the ethnic Serb community (and by all means also similar mechanisms for others that wish it), Kosovo might wish to move ahead proactively in any event.

That said, the upcoming discussions on implementation will remain difficult and challenging. It is likely that Serbia will seek to re-open issues that have been definitely resolved in the 11 Articles and Preamble of the Basic Agreement—a text that is now beyond re-negotiation. Differing interpretations on this or that issue will undoubtedly emerge. However, if Kosovo maintains its present attitude of pro-active engagement, seeking constructive solutions without jeopardizing its essential interests, it is at least in a good starting position.