Friday, April 25, 2008

Holland and the SAA

Some news on Serbia's SAA from Holland. The Dutch parliament had a meeting on it on 24 april. Minister Verhagen is prepared to sign if the EU makes sure that Serbia doesn't enjoy any of its benefits as long as Mladic isn't delivered. For the opposition parties even this little consession was too much.

After an SAA has been signed it has to be ratified. A part is ratified by Europe: this usually happens quite fast. The other part is signed by the EU memberstates: this can easily take more than a year even if it is not controversial. But when the European part has been ratified the country already gets some benefits. It now looks as if this European ratification will be delayed and conditional on the extradition of Mladic.

B92 has some news on the subject too. There are also reports on the a more liberal visa regime for Serbia. The article claims that Verhagen would support such a move while the dutch newspaper article below suggests that he would not support it.

Only a few newspapers in Holland reported about the issue. Below a translation of the most complete article I could find an article about the meeting:

Nederlands relaxes attitude towards Serbia
The Netherlands is possibly yet prepared to sign an greement between the EU and Serbia. The coalition parties support minister of foreign affairs Verhagen in his effort to find a "creative solution", so appeared thrusday in a debate in parliament.
Verhagen refused for months to sign an agreement between the EU and Serbia. First Serbia had to put Mladic on the plane to [...] The Hague, was the demand of Verhangen, who was nearly alone with that wish inside Europe.
But now Verhagen is prepared possibly to sign. At least he finds that the EU should make a gesture towards Serbia in order to support the pro-European parties in the 11 may elections. "I want to tell the Serbian voters that we have nothing against ther country and that it should join the EU", said Verhagen, who will have a meeting with his EU collegues on this subject on tuesday.
According to Verhagen the EU could conclude the agreement, but make the accompanying advantages dependent on Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal. This concerns cheaper visa, scholarships for Serbian students and easier access for Serbian products to the European market.
Until now the full parliament supported Verhagens tough policy against Serbia. The oppostion parties want to cling to that. "The Netherlands should stay principled and keep its back straight" said GL president Femke Halsema. According to her it is far from sure that a gesture from the EU towards Serbia will bring the pro-European parties an election victory.
The three coalition parties support Verhagen. "It is good that the minister's thinking keeps evolving", judged CDA parliamentarian Karien van Gennip. "We should not restrict the minister in his freedom to act" said PvdA parliamenraian Luuk Blom.
CU parliamentarian Joël Voordewind said that he trusted that Verhagen "will not rashly put his signature under the agreement".

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Kosovo's constitution

Now that Kosovo's new constitution has been adopted by parliament we start seeing comments about how it was made. I found an interesting article on Lifesitenews (an anti-abortion site). Some quotes:

President Fatmir Sedjiu told the group that he had “trusted the experts” that Kosovo was compelled to include sexual orientation so that Kosovo would have a “contemporary” understanding of international human rights. Jakup Krasniqi, president of Kosovo’s assembly, said that he had opposed the article but that UN, European Union, and Council of Europe representatives told him that the reference put Kosovo’s law in line with other European constitutions.
Kosovars criticized the fact that they were not allowed to see the draft Constitution though they were encouraged over the past year to offer “public comment.” They also objected to the fact that all of their comments to the constitutional commission, the small body of experts responsible for the drafting process, apparently needed review by the representative from an American NGO called the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) during the proceedings.
Kosovo’s religious leaders said the constitutional commission never sent them a copy of the draft document. After consenting to meet Catholic and Muslim leaders, the commission agreed to omit language that would have explicitly removed legal protection from the unborn, but never provided promised feedback on other complaints and instead claimed “consensus” had been reached.

Another discontent community are the Turks. There language will not become an official language. A bit painful as Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo. But Roma and Bosnian aren't becoming official languages either. It would become much too expensive.

It doesn't sound like the content of the constitution has much local support.

Addition on 20-6-2008: For another critical artical about Kosovo's constitution see here. This article takes a libertarian US viewpoint.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dulic, the SAA campaign and the ambassador return

The translated article below was adapted as the newspaper original was changed. According to the new version an SAA would be enough for the return of the ambassadors

Serbia's "pro-Western" parties and a couple of NGO's had organised a delegation to the Netherlands to try to move the position of our government on the SAA treaty. Among their program was also a public meeting that I could attend on 8 april. The main speaker was Serbia's parliament speaker Dulic. Most of what he said was in line with expectations. He got my attention however when he tried to visualize the threat of a Radical victory by talking about Mladic as minister of defence if they win. Not only sounded it exaggerated, but it made me also wonder how he hoped to convince Europe to embrace Serbia if its most likely next government is the devil himself. Afterwards I asked him whether he hadn't painted the Radicals a bit too black. He answered that he hoped that one day Serbia would have two normal political movements who alternated in power, but that the time was not yet there for Serbia. When asked for more concrete objections against the Radicals he mentioned their aggressive rethorics. Maybe he should watch his own rethorics a bit too...

One argument that Dulic and others often make is that Croatia got its SAA when Gotovina was still a free man. I got an opportunity to check this with a member of our government. The EU had previously made a decision that that should be a condition and the Dutch government believes it should not be withdrawn. With Croatia such a condition was never made.

As also B92 reports there seems to be some compromise in the works. I got similar signals. But it is unclear to me how that should work. A "clear commitment" from Serbia's government before the elections seems rather unlikely and Tadic may claim to be authorised to sign the treaty, but I doubt that that claim could be upheld if any changes were made. If a decision from Serbia's government would be required it would become little more than a ploy to make the DSS look bad for blocking the SAA. And even as a gesture it would mean little as for ratification delivery of Mladic would still be required.

Then there was another interesting newspaper article yesterday with the title "Serbian ambassadors back with EU agreement" in NRC Handelsblad. It was written by Petra de Koning. Below the translation:
Brussel, 18 april; changed 23 april. If the EU offers Serbia an agreement on closer cooperation, the ambassadors that were withdrawn in protest to Kosovo's recognition will return.
That has been offered by Serb representatives to the EU memberstates according to diplomatic sources in Brussel. In exchange for an agreement Serbia would also be prepared to form some kind of cooperation with the EU EULEX mission that will take over from the UN from half june.
Serb politicians from pro-European parties make these weeks their utmost efforts to achieve an SAA with the EU before the 11 june elections. The Netherlands, supported by Belgium, has until now blocked such an agreement as Serbia doesn't fulfill the requirement of "full cooperation" with the ICTY in The Hague. Most other EU countries and the European Commission find it now more important to help the pro-European parties in Serbia to win the elections.
Under pressure from his European colleges minister Verhagen promised at the end of last month "creative thinking" about a possible solution. According to sources in Brussel and The Hague the Netherlands have asked Serbia for a written declaration that the country will fully cooperate with the tribunal. Then possibly would the Netherlands be prepared to sign an agreement with Serbia, but it is not clear whether before or after the Serb elections. For the ratification by the national parliaments full cooperation with the tribunal would still be required.
Until now Serbia is not prepared to make a written promise of full cooperation with the tribunal.
Minister Verhagen reacts laconicly to the promise that the Serb ambassadors will return if Serbia gets its SAA. According to him the EU earlier has pointed out that Belgrade can improve its relations with the EU memberstates by allowing the ambassadors to return.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Given the discussion about the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in Serbia I decided to look up the document. It is here. The link gives you a page with three links. The one in the middle is the SAA. For those interested: Here are the texts for Croatia and Bosnia. The documents are over 200 pages each. So enjoy the reading!

Except for a reference to an uninteresting refernce to an aviation agreement the SAA mentions Kosovo only in article 135. There it says: "The Agreement shall not apply in Kosovo which is at present under international administration pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999. This is without prejudice to the current status of Kosovo or the determination of its final status under the same Resolution.". Allthough previous agreements with the EU (the last in 2006) did include Kosovo I can't see this change as a recognition of Kosovo. What I am not sure of is the consequences of the SAA for the Kosovo-Serbia border: will free transport of goods and people still be possible?

One possible explanation for the resistance against the SAA is that it may be a retaliation for the blocking of the Russian gas deal by the DS. One would hope that Serbia's leaders find some more constructive way to deal with each other and with Serbia's international interests.

Don't get me wrong: I am not a big fan of the EU. Countries that follows its dictates to the letter do that to their own detriment. But I think that better market access and easier travel opportunities will be to Serbia's advantage.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The problem with minority education in Kosovo

Peace is a matter of negotiations. And besides a big compromise it contains also many detail solutions. That makes it very difficult to impose peace because an outsider cannot be aware of all those details.

A good illustration of this is education. After Dayton in Bosnia each ethnic group had for eight years its own education. Specially history was a subject where each group had its own vision. Only then did they reach a compromise that did not offend any of the ethnicities.

The Ahtisaari plan is rather short on education in Kosovo. The minorities have the right to education in their own language. But for the rest the government is free to do what it wants. So if Ahtisaari has his way there will be no educational compromise in Kosovo like in Bonsia, but instead the Kosovo's government will be able to impose the Albanian vision on the Serbs. And past experience learns us that they are prepared to close schools to enforce the obedience to that vision.

Then there is the problem of higher education. In the past Kosovo's government has tried to introduce a law that offered ony higher education in Albanian. It was vetoed by the internationals. But given the small size of the Serb community it is clear that only the most popular subjects can be offered in Serbian in Kosovo. For the rest people will have to go to Serbia. As few Serbs in Kosovo speak fluent Albanian higher education in Albanian is no option for them.

As I have written more often: to solve ethnic problems both sides should sit as equals on the negotiation table. This kind of mutual respect lacks at the moment between Kosovo's Serbs and Albanians. Ahtisaari made the problem only worse as he didn't have that kind respect himself. The problem with education is but one of many problems that his one-sided solution produced.