Kosovo Montenegro agreement- a clever strategy to please EU

The Prokletije Mountains which stretch along the border of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. Photo: Taylah Fellows

After its declared independence in 2008, Kosovo’s border disputes have been lengthy. The Montenegro and Kosovo border agreement voted on during March this year has more layers than one thinks.

The Rugova Mountains are beautiful. Roads are slightly sketchy but the people driving on them don’t seem to mind. Vehicles of all kinds line the skinny route along the Prokletije Mountain range. Sitting in the car, Visar Kabashi turns and says “I’m not sure if we’re in Kosovo or Montenegro now.”

He grew up in Istog, a small town North West of Peja. After a lengthy explanation of how far away we were about to travel Visar then explains to me that not many people from the outskirt towns in Kosovo know where the Montenegro border starts and finishes.

“I mean everyone knows where the checkpoint is, but I’ve lived here for so long and most of the locals travel only halfway up the mountains to have picnics when its nice weather. Tourists definitely come up a bit further to drink water straight from the mountain waterfalls but I don’t know anyone who goes to the very edge,” he says.

Because Kosovo uses cadastral data to measure its borders after Serbia withdrew from the territory, there is no definite way to declare which land officially belongs to which country.

In 2017 an independent commission was set to propose the new border agreement after years of political debate between the ruling coalition and Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who pushed for the deal, and the Vetevendosje opposition movement, which has argued that Kosovo has surrendered almost 8,000 square hectares of land to Montenegro.

The demarcation commission used for defining the Macedonia border also used cadastral surveys of land ownership and maps of the state border.

According to a 2014 report from the Republic of Kosovo, citizens were relatively content with the Macedonia demarcation process because they were involved in cooperative surveys about the territorial changes.

After touring the Prokletije Mountains and conversing with locals it became evident that residents living near the newly proposed border were not bothered by the agreement and that this particular demarcation process was more of a political game than a public service.

The seemingly quiet Prokletije Mountains play a much larger role in Kosovo’s international relations. Photo: Taylah Fellows

Underlying strategy?

The government needed a two-thirds majority vote (80 MPs of a total 120 MPs), in favour of the agreement for ratification and on March 21st that’s exactly what it got.

According to Fatos Bytyci from Pristina Reuters, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic “signed a joint statement agreeing that experts would examine the agreement and that ‘mistakes’ could be rectified in the future.”

This separate “annex agreement” essentially acts as an ‘opt-out’ mechanism, allowing both the Haradinaj and Vetevendosje parties to amend the deal after it has been ratified if “any errors are found” in the initial deal with Montenegro.

The Montenegro demarcation agreement highly benefits Kosovo as it is part of an EU requirement for the provision of visa liberalisation. The deal also promotes Kosovo’s willingness to comply with EU standards and criteria as it works its way to future EU membership.

The proposed new border outlined in black. Source: Fjona Kransiqi, Open Source Democracy

In 2016 the European Union said it will grant Kosovo nationals visa-free access to the passport-free Schengen area if the agreement is ratified.

Shortly after the successful vote, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj tweeted, “while Kosovo remains committed to democratic values and rule of law, it expects that EU does its part as promised, to finally lift visa regime to Kosovo citizens to allow to travel freely as their fellow Europeans.”

In a parliament meeting last week, Haradjinaj announced he is confident that the EU will fulfil its promises before summer this year.

Serbia border deal possible in future?

There are many hopes that this final stage of border identification will someday lead to a border deal with Kosovo’s northern neighbour, Serbia.

Even though EU membership is still far off for Kosovo, Serbia’s current goal of accession will need to incorporate successful negotiations with Kosovo. Simply put, if efficient dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo were to happen in order to achieve a legally binding agreement, both parties would benefit in the long run.

However, in a recent interview with European Western Balkans, Deputy Chairman at the European Stability Initiative, Kristof Bender stated,

“President Vujic seems to suggest that the solution lies in some sort of swap of territory. I am convinced this will not happen. Neither the Kosovar parliament will never accept this. Nor will Germany, France, the Netherlands or most other EU member states. Also practically I cannot see how this could happen. If defining a borderline between Kosovo and Montenegro in uninhabited terrain was so difficult, how should inhabited territories to be swapped be determined?”

During July last year, Vujic announced that Serbia would commit to a national dialogue with Kosovo however, little headway has been made and the 2013 Brussels Agreement which allows the EU to conduct negotiations continues to be the favoured approach for any future progress.