Kosova-o - Part 42

posted by julia on 2006/09/17 23:11

[ Kosova-o ]

Decentralisation is one of the most controversial issues in the Kosovo status talks. Here is an overview of the main debates and positions on decentralisation:

The debate on decentralisation is not new: it started in 2000 with the UNMIK regulation on municipalities and the creation of 30 municipalities in Kosovo. For UNMIK decentralisation was the key to participation of all ethnic communities in local government. Nevertheless, Kosovo Serb leaders saw the UNMIK decentralisation plans - e.g. the idea of creating "municipal subunits" in municipalities with minority communities - as "the only way to protect long-term interests of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija" (cf. Kosovo-Serb comments on the UNMIK decentralisation plan from 2002).

In 2003-2004 the Council of Europe published recommendations for a reform of local government and participated in a working group on local government which elaborated a Framework for the Reform of Local Self-Government in Kosovo (July 2004):

At present there are 30 Municipalities in Kosovo for a population of about two million people. These Municipalities are large by European standards while their size corresponds to the model of former Yugoslavia. The size of larger municipalities may make it difficult for the inhabitants to participate in the democratic life of their Municipality and especially remoter parts of the municipal territory risk being neglected at the municipal level. From the point of view of local democracy, smaller Municipalities clearly would be desirable. This could also facilitate the access of inhabitants to municipal services since at present the distance to the seat of the Municipality may be considerable. Moreover, the creation of smaller Municipalities would also facilitate addressing the needs of all Communities.

Another, alternative solution to the setting up of new Municipalities would be the establishment of Sub-Municipal Units within the existing Municipalities. (...)

The difficulties of implementing a comprehensive reform cannot be overlooked. Current structures of local self-government are recent and still in a period of consolidation. Kosovo is in a difficult economic and political situation and resources available for municipal reform are limited. The setting up of new structures may not only be costly but also difficult to implement.

The Working Group therefore considers it wise to refrain from proposing an immediate comprehensive reform of municipal territorial structures without having gained previous practical experience with such steps in Kosovo. The Working Group recommends to first gain practical experience with the restructuring of municipalities through pilot projects. There should be a limited number of pilot projects, some of which would correspond to the setting up of new Municipalities with the full range of powers of a Municipality, others would correspond to the setting up of a new type of Sub-Municipal Unit with reduced powers as proposed by the Council of Europe.

The set-up of these new pilot municipalities was heavily controversed - cf. a report of the IWPR.

With the position paper People Or Territory? A Proposal For Mitrovica, the think tank ESI launched a discussion on the status of Mitrovica in February 2004. ESI proposed a joint (Serb-majority) municipality of Zvecan-North Mitrovica:

To those Kosovo Albanians who recognise the importance of creating a modus vivendi for Serbs in Kosovo, allowing North Mitrovica to join Zvecan would send a signal to the Serb population that they have a future as Kosovo citizens. It is a compromise that makes good political sense, when balanced by an orderly return process and full integration of the North with UNMIK/Kosovo institutions. (...) As part of the package solution, parallel courts, inspection services and the Serb district administration (okrug) would be completely dismantled.

The International Crisis Group, arguing along similar lines, proposed, in September 2005 establishing an international Special Commissioner for Mitrovica. North and South Mitrovica would share a joint central administrative district with a common city board.

The discussion on decentralisation, which gained momentum after the March 2004 riots, is now one of the key issues in the status negotiation process. The Contact Group statement from 31st January 2006 reads:

(...) effective provisions for the decentralisation of government will be crucial to the status settlement. Decentralisation can ensure that minority communities remain a vital part of Kosovo's future and give impetus to the return of displaced persons who should be able to choose where they live in Kosovo. Ministers call on the parties to engage seriously on this issue.

While Belgrade asks for 16 new municipalities, Pristina is willing to accept only "5 + 1 (Mitrovica)". The current Kosovo-Albanian proposal for Mitrovica is is "one city (with a common administration), two municipalities", while the Belgrade team advocates two separate administrations for North and South Mitrovica.

Further readings:

- A recent USIP-paper analyses different scenarios for Mitrovica, and concludes that "no solution for Kosovo can last without a solution for Mitrovica".

- ESI position paper from April 2006: Mitrovica. Kosovo's litmus test and ESI-documents on the political economy of Mitrovica

- background article on decentralisation by the NZZ:
Wer soll wo in Kosovo wohnen? (pdf)
(10 August 2004)

- White paper on Why is decentralisation important for Kosovo status talks? (pdf) by the 4 (Serb) researchers D. Janjic, S. Cvijic, D. Nenadic, and N. Durdevic, presented at a special seminar of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly

Image source: ESI map of Mitrovica.


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