Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Serbia: Solana to Push for Union Deal

Election fever holds up progress on linking Serbia with Montenegro.
By Daniel Sunter

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security policy chief, is due in Belgrade next week to wring agreement from squabbling politicians on a new union between Serbia and Montenegro and pave the way for admission of Yugoslavia into the Council of Europe, CoE.

In some quarters, his chances of success are rated high, despite politicians in both countries who were until now less concerned with reaching agreement than on posturing before voters in the run up to national elections.

Solana's visit comes at a time when a constitutional commission comprising representatives of the Serbian, Montenegrin and Yugoslav authorities stands deadlocked over what shape the new union should take.

None of the five drafts - by the DOS coalition in Serbia, the Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, headed by federal president Vojislav Kostunica, the Montenegrin and Serbian governments, the Coalition for Yugoslavia in Montenegro and the Venice commission set up by the CoE - have met with general agreement.

The general aim is for the two republics that currently comprise Yugoslavia to link up and later become the new Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Failure to reach an agreement could block Yugoslavia's bid for Council of Europe, CoE, membership at the council's parliamentary assembly on September 23.

The two deadlines set so far by the international community have been broken and a third, which expires at the beginning of September, has also been thrown into question. The big stumbling block is the approach of Serbian presidential ballot on September 29 and an early general election in Montenegro on October 9. Politicians in both republics fear a willingness to compromise might go down badly with voters.

The proposal for union was advanced by Solana in the Belgrade Agreement, signed by Montenegrin and Serbian top-rank officials on March 14, under strong EU pressure. Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic had up to then campaigned vigorously for outright independence but, having failed to gather enough political support, embraced the deal.

On June 19 a commission representing the parliaments of Serbia, Montenegro and Yugoslavia was set up to devise a draft constitutional charter based on the Belgrade Agreement, to ask for a common market, harmonisation of economic systems and shared federal institutions.

The option advocated by Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, called for a loose federation of the two republics. The Montenegrin president faced problems at home from his former pro-independence allies - and now must also deal with a strong pro-Yugoslavia opposition, bolstered by the defection of his former supporters the Liberal Alliance, in the October 9 elections.

To mollify the disgruntled pro-independence voters, Djukanovic's government came up with a programme that steered clear of federal institutions and budgets. For a while, it seemed Djukanovic might have found an ally in the Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, Kostunica's main rival.

Djindjic's government presented a draft that tallied closely with the ideas of the Montenegrin leader and both authorities accepted it on August 26. Djukanovic's opponents, the coalition Together for Yugoslavia, immediately opposed the idea, as did Kostunica's DSS in Serbia.

The Serbian prime minister wanted to play down the idea of a federal structure, which he feared would improve Kostunica's chances of becoming president of Serbia. Kostunica has presented himself to voters as the champion of maintaining Yugoslavia as a firm federation. Djindjic argued that the solution lay in the hands of the Serbian and Montenegrin governments.

According to Andrija Mandic, one of the leaders of the pro-Yugoslavia Serb People's Party in Montenegro, Djukanovic and Djindjic wished to present themselves as serious political figures while at the same time jeopardising the status of all their rivals - even at the cost of breaking up the state.

The two governments agreed to submit their text of the constitutional charter to the DOS coalition for adoption and then offer it to the constitutional commission as the final solution. However, things took a different turn on August 28 when, under pressure from his partners within the DOS, Djindjic was forced to back away from his agreement with Djukanovic.

DOS members such as Nebojsa Covic's Democratic Alternative and Dragoljub Micunovic's Democratic Centre, whose backing is crucial to Djindjic, concluded the text offered by the two governments differed from the requirements of the Belgrade Agreement.

To prevent rifts within the DOS, the text was modified to define the state as a federation and envisaged that federal deputies would be directly elected, a formula taken to imply a unitary state. The Montenegrins found themselves in disarray.

The coordinator of the Montenegrin delegation, Dragan Kujovic, said the new DOS version could once again slow down the search for a constitution. "The text adopted by DOS introduces a few new things that were defined differently in the text adopted by the two governments," Kujovic told a press conference in the Montenegrin parliament.

Criticising the proposal for direct elections, Kujovic said, "The state union is not a union of citizens, but a union of member-states. Direct elections would mean the union had become a unitary state."

Many DPS politicians concluded on Thursday that it is not possible for Djukanovic to accept direct elections to a federal parliament, if he wants to win the forthcoming ballot.

One foreign analyst in Montenegro said, "I presume Djukanovic will tell Solana that it won't be possible to reach an agreement before the elections and that the constitutional charter could be defined only after the trial of strength in Montenegro. I believe Solana will be forced to accept this because a compromise is impossible at this time."

Some analysts in Serbia also believe Solana's efforts are doomed because a compromise simply cannot be reached in the heat of an election campaign. Belgrade political analyst Ognjen Pribicevic told Radio B92 on August 28 that the constitutional charter is being used as a political football rather than as a vehicle to achieve a solution.

But there is a growing impression that the EU is strongly determined to finish the job of defining a new union, and will try to force all sides to accept a joint formula.

The president of the CoE's parliament, Peter Schieder, expressed hope that all parties will reach agreement before the assembly's next session from September 23 to 27 in Strasbourg.

Following the DOS decision taken on August 28, Djindjic is also optimistic that the issue of the constitutional charter has been resolved. He believes the CoE's request that an agreement be reached by September 2 and 3 will be fulfilled.

Facing pressure from the international community, similar optimism is coming today from Montenegro, despite some reservations. The prime minister of Montenegro, Filip Vujanovic, said on Friday that both Serbia and Montenegro are ready to accept the conditions for CoE membership, "If the constitutional chapter is not accepted by September 23, all economic and other aid for Montenegro and Serbia will be cancelled, and we will be the only country beside Belarus not to be members of the council."

The challenge Solana faces is great but one should not forget that he managed to achieve the impossible back in March when he talked the Montenegrin political elite into giving up on independence.

Daniel Sunter is IWPR's coordinating editor in Belgrade. Boris Darmanovic is an IWPR representative in Montenegro and a journalist with the Podgorica daily Publika.

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