Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Customs row between Serbia and Kosovo solved via EU mediation

Evelina Topalova, September 5, 2011

The customs stamps issue, that strained relations between Belgrade and Pristina in the past two months, has been resolved thanks to the mediation of the EU. After difficult and in moments "unpleasant" negotiations (in the words of the head of the Serbian team), the two delegations have accepted that the customs stamps will be marked 'Kosovo Customs' with no state symbols shown.

The agreement envisages lifting of Kosovo's embargo on the import of Serbian goods which caused serious escalation of the tension in the mainly populated with Serbs northern part of the breakaway southern Serbian province. The same applies to the restrictions imposed by Serbia on the import of goods from Kosovo. The agreement is an important step in improving relations in the region and ensuring freedom of movement of goods in accordance with the European values, reads a press release issued after the Friday's meeting in Brussels. The restrictions are expected to be lifted within a week.

The follow-up reaction of the Kosovo Serbs, however, puts into question the successful implementation of the agreement. Their representatives have said that they will not accept the presence of Kosovo Albanian customs officers along the administrative line with Serbia.

The embargo on Serbian goods between July 20 and September 1 has caused damages to Serbia's economy amounting to 45 million dollars, according to Milivoje Miletic, official with Serbia's Chamber of Commerce.

The latest crisis in Belgrade-Pristina relations has been spurred by Kosovo authorities' decision to send special police forces to regain control on the checkpoints along the border with Serbia. One of the border crossings has been set on fire while Kosovo Serbs lifted barricades on the roads and vowed that they would not allow Kosovo Albanian customs officers to enter the area.

In early August representatives of the Serbian government and NATO forces stroke an agreement under which KFOR took control over the two crossings - Jarinje and Brnjak, there will be no presence of Kosovo Albanian customs officers and no exhibition of Kosovo symbols. The agreement was accepted as an interim one until a final agreement with Brussels is reached.

The UN Security Council has refrained from taking a side with just condemning the recent violence and calling on both sides to resume dialogue. Belgrade did not hide its disappointment that the world organisation had not condemned the "unilateral", according to Serbia, actions of Pristina. Referring to another topic - the organ traffic allegations in Kosovo, Serbia has stated it expects a wide probe under a UN mandate.

The allegations in the report of Swiss senator and Council of Europe Rapporteur Dick Marty will be investigated by the EU Rule of Law Mission EULEX which said that US prosecutor and UN expert John Clint Williamson would head the Special Investigative Task Force on the case. The team will consist of 15 to 20 people - prosecutors, investigators and administrative staff. The fact that an American will lead the investigation does not bother the EU. Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, has said that Williamson is the best candidate for the position. Serbs have voiced some reserves over the nomination but hoped that the probe would not be biased.

According to Marty's report, former leaders of the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army and currently senior officials of the newborn country have been involved in traffic of organs, weapons and drugs in the late 90s. The EULEX investigation is to be launched in September.

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