What will the Association of Serbian municipalities in Kosovo look like?

Analysis of the proposal of sustainable solutions based on existing models of territorial authonomies in Europe


Ten years have passed since the signing of the Brussels Agreement, which, in addition to the principles governing the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, also provides for the formation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities. This institution, in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the so-called of Kosovo, should respond to the needs of the Serbian population in Kosovo and give them a mechanism to organize their lives in the areas where they constitute the majority. Although a whole decade has passed since the moment Pristina committed to its formation, and although the autonomy envisioned by the Association of Serbian Municipalities is far lesser than in the existing European models, it has not yet been formed, and Belgrade and Pristina, as well as the international factor, have not found  a model that would satisfy the interests of both parties.

Exactly ten years ago, the First Agreement on Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations between Belgrade and Pristina (First Brussels Agreement) was signed, on the basis of which the formation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities (ZSO) was agreed upon. Then, two years later (2015), the Agreement on the Association of Municipalities with a Serbian majority was signed, which harmonized the general principles. They provide that the ZSO will be formed by the so-called Government decree. of Kosovo, that the Constituent Assembly of the ZSO will then adopt the Statute, which will be the highest legal act, but in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the so-called Kosovo. As for the organizational structure, the ZSO should have an Assembly, as the supreme body composed of representatives appointed by each member municipal assembly from among elected councilors. Then, the President, who represents the Association, both before the central authorities and outside Kosovo. The President is assisted by the vice president. The President and Vice President are elected by the Assembly from among the councilors of the member municipalities and their mayors. The next body is the Council, composed of a maximum of 30 members from among the residents of member municipalities (including all mayors). This is an advisory body that provides guidelines for the work of the Association. Then the Board, which consists of seven members elected by the Assembly from among the mayors and residents of the member municipalities, and which should make decisions on the daily management of the Association. ZSO will also have an administration, whose head will be chosen by the Board and which reports to the Board, provides support in the work of the Association, and especially to the Board and the president. When it comes to competences, the ZSO will have full supervision over the areas of economic development, education, health, urban planning and rural development, with the possibility of exercising other competences delegated to it by the central authorities. As for the judicial branch of government, the legal system of the so-called Kosovo is unique, but the Agreement stipulates that within the Appellate Court in Pristina, a panel will be formed, which will be composed of the majority of Kosovo Serb judges, which will be responsible for all municipalities where Serbs are the majority. The Department of the Court of Appeal will have a permanent office in Severna Mitrovica. Among other things, the appointment of a regional police commander for four Serbian municipalities in the north is also planned. The commander of this region will be a Kosovo Serb appointed by the Kosovo Ministry of Internal Affairs from the list submitted by the four mayors on behalf of the Association. Also, ZSO will have its own budget, as an important element of financial autonomy.

The Association of Serbian Municipalities (Zajednica srpskih opština – ZSO) should have full supervision over the areas of economic development, education, health, urbanism and rural development, with the possibility of exercising other competencies delegated to it by the central authorities.


Given that even 10 years after the two parties agreed on the formation of the ZSO, it has not been constituted, the German foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung presented its proposal for the draft Statute of the Association of Serbian Municipalities a few months ago. According to that proposal, the Statute of the Association would have to be approved by the so-called Government. of Kosovo, in accordance with the Constitution. Also, the Association could be dissolved by a decision of the Assembly, with a two-thirds majority. Strengthening of local democracy, development of the local economy, supervision in the field of education, primary and secondary health, which would also fall under the jurisdiction of the ZSO, stand out as the objectives of the formation of the Association. The Association of Serbian municipalities should, in terms of organization, have an Assembly, a president, a vice president, a council, a board and an office for appeals. It would also have its own budget, which would be subject to audit by the Office of the Auditor General of Kosovo.

European models

Bearing in mind that the problem of the extent of jurisdiction of territorial autonomies formed to overcome ethnic conflicts occurs throughout the European continent, there are some interesting solutions that should be presented. These are actually examples, which at first glance can remind you of the current problems in Kosovo, especially when it comes to the formation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities.

South Tyrol

According to the current Constitution, Italy is divided into 20 regions, five of which have a special status. Among them is the Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol region, which is divided into two provinces, the majority Italian – Trentino, and the majority German – South Tyrol. In this context, it should be noted that South Tyrol officially has the status of an autonomous province, based on the Constitution and Statute (from 1972), which has the force of a constitutional law. Institutionally, the province has a Parliament (35 members), which elects the president/governor of the province and the members of the Provincial Government. The President/Governor leads the Provincial Government and represents the province. The state appoints its representative – the prefect, in each region, except in Trentino-Alte Adige, where it appoints two prefects, in both provinces separately. The Parliament of South Tyrol has exclusive legislative competences in the fields of culture, agriculture, industry, trade, tourism, social protection, spatial planning, public transport, civil protection and the protection of national parks, while it can legally regulate the matter of education, sports and health care only after it made the Italian Parliament. Defense, police, justice, finance and immigration remain the responsibility of the Republic, with a high degree of financial autonomy for South Tyrol. When it comes to the judiciary, there are regional administrative courts at the regional level, and in this case there is a separate independent department in Bolzano for South Tyrol. In order to preserve ethnic diversity, rather complicated rules have been introduced when it comes to the use of languages, and the official languages are Italian and German. Participation in provincial-level bodies is based on a demographic balance between members of the German majority (69%) and the Italian (26%) and Ladino (4%) minorities.    

Eastern Belgium

Belgium, which in recent decades has gone from a strongly centralist to a federally organized state, has different types of federal structure. Thus, the Constitution itself, in addition to the division into provinces and regions, also recognizes the division into three language communities. In addition to the Flemish and Walloons, a German-speaking community is also recognized in the east of this country. Essentially, it is about the German minority, which has special rights in this region, which has been called Eastern Belgium since 2017. In this context, the region has its own parliament and government. The parliament has 25 members and powers in the fields of education, culture, agriculture, health and social care, employment, media, tourism, professional training, sports, local politics and finance, as well as the right to veto international agreements, which is an unusual solution, considering we see that it can also affect European legislation. One member of Parliament simultaneously represents the community in the Belgian Senate. The government consists of the minister-president and three ministers. In terms of the judiciary, the whole of Belgium is divided into 12 judicial districts, one of which covers the administration of this region. Thus, within the judicial district of Eupen – the main center of the area, there is a court of first instance, a district court, a commercial court, a labor court and a public prosecutor.


The territorial autonomy of the Åland Islands is the result of historical circumstances, which after the First World War brought this ethnically Swedish area under the sovereignty of a new state – Finland. The Law on Autonomy from 1920 has been amended several times. The Åland Islands have quite wide powers, especially in areas related to the preservation of the national identity of the local Swedes. There are cases that are under joint jurisdiction, and in the event of a dispute, the Supreme Court of Finland decides. Organizationally, the Åland Islands have a Parliament (30 members) and a Government. The parliament appoints the regional government, passes laws in the fields of education, culture and preservation of monuments, health and medical care, environment, industry, internal transport, local self-government, police, postal communication, radio and television. Holland also has a provincial prosecutor and a special administrative court. The President of Finland, with the consent of the Parliament of Åland, appoints the governor, whose function is to supervise the exercise of territorial autonomy. There is also a so-called Åland delegation, in which there are representatives of the Åland islands and the central authorities, and which is the mediator of the relationship between the central authorities and the islands, in order to resolve all disputed issues in a compromise way, peacefully. Swedish is the only official language and is used by regional, municipal and state authorities in the Åland Islands, and all communication between the Finnish Government and the Åland authorities must be conducted in Swedish. In the field of foreign policy, the Government of Åland can propose the negotiation of a certain agreement to the respective state authorities.

South Tyrol, Eastern Belgium, Åland, Cyprus and Gagauzia are some of the European models that are successfully functioning and that have a far greater degree of autonomy than is envisaged for the Community of Serbian Municipalities.


Cyprus is a country that was unified until the Turkish invasion in 1974. In the occupied territory, the local Turks unilaterally declared independence in 1983, which was recognized only by Turkey and Pakistan. In the past four decades, there have been many proposals for the reunification of the island, and in this regard, the most significant was the proposal of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan from 2004, on which both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots declared in the referendum that year. This plan would lead to the reintegration of the Turkish with the Greek part of the island, which would result in the formation of a two-member federation (like the SR Yugoslavia/SCG). The plan included the return of only about a fifth of Greek and all Turkish internally displaced persons, as well as the permanent retention of the regular Turkish army on the island with the possibility of intervention, along with the disbanding of the Cypriot (Greek) National Guard. At the head of the state would be a six-member Presidency (4 Greeks and 2 Turks), elected by the Parliament, which would elect the president and vice-president of the state (who would alternately come from both nations). The parliament would consist of two houses. In the Senate, the ratio of Greeks and Turks would be equal (24:24), while in the House of Representatives, out of 48 deputies, at least 12 would have to come from both communities. The Supreme Court would be composed of an equal number of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot judges, with three foreign judges (as in BiH). Although Cyprus would nominally be a federation, it would essentially function as a confederation of two states, which was the main reason for the rejection of the Plan by the Greek Cypriots.


The autonomous territorial unit of Gagauzia was formed in 1994 by the official Moldova, after the resolution of the conflict that led to the secession of this region in the early nineties. The territory of this autonomy is not unique, but consists of several mutually separate municipalities (enclaves). Autonomy is guaranteed by the Constitution of Moldova and the special Law on Autonomy, which foresees the possibility of secession of Gagauzia in the event of a change in the state status of Moldova (that is, its unification with Romania). This region has an Assembly (People’s Assembly), an Executive Council (committee) and a president (called a baškan) who represents the region, but is also a member of the central government in Chisinau, which is a very unusual solution. The competence of the Assembly includes science, culture, education, housing and communal services, health care, physical culture and sports, as well as local budgetary, financial and tax activities, economy, ecology, labor relations and social insurance. However, Gagauzia does not have a separate judicial system, but it is unique throughout the territory of the Republic of Moldova. In official use are Gagauz, Moldavian and Russian languages, which are used equally in this region, which aims to preserve the Gagauz distinctiveness, the Moldavian minority and Russian-language traditions from the Russian and Soviet era.

Future proposals have to take into account both comparative European experiences and the local and historical context.


In the end, the question should be raised as to how much the agreed Association of Serbian Municipalities is similar to the mentioned European examples, i.e. are there any among the mentioned models that would be applicable in this case? When European models are analyzed, it can be seen that in terms of organization, it is an established practice that such territorial units have their own parliament, government (that is, council, board), president and administration. The statute appears as the highest legal act, which must be in accordance with the constitution and central laws. In the financial sense, the right to one’s own budget and financial autonomy, that is, to collect one’s own taxes, is almost usually implied. The biggest difference between ZSO and other European models is the scope of competence. Namely, as stated, in all the examples mentioned, the territories that were discussed have legislative and executive powers. Specifically, this means that they can pass laws in certain areas (culture, education, health, agriculture, ecology, tourism, etc.), while only supervisory powers are provided for ZSO, without the possibility of passing its own legislation. When it comes to the judiciary, an indicative example is East Belgium and South Tyrol, which somewhat resemble the example of the ZSO, but with a much wider range of powers. However, the majority opinion is that such territories do not have a separate legal system. What represents one of the most sensitive issues is the preservation of ethnic identity and linguistic peculiarities, but also finding a balance between the majority and the minority. Although the ZSO would resemble Gagauzia with its unconnected territory, it would have a far smaller scope of authority than any of the aforementioned autonomy. On the other hand, considering the historical context, it is difficult that any of the examples could be applicable in the Kosovo case. And while East Belgium and South Tyrol came under the current government as compensation for war reparations, Oland due to circumstances, Kosovo and Metohija unilaterally seceded from the mother country, which only somewhat resembles the example of Gagauzia, and much more the example of Northern Cyprus, whose status is still a controversial issue today. Therefore, future proposals (such as that of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung) must, in addition to the existing framework, take into account both comparative European experiences and the local historical context.

According to the Belgrade media, the Serbs in the North of Kosovo are planning to independently establish the Association of Serbian Municipalities, whose headquarters will be in Kosovska Mitrovica. According to the circles close to the political leaders of Kosovo Serbs, the planned date of formation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities is June 28, on Vidovdan.

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