The decision of the state of Kosovo to start implementing the change of vehicle license plates to “RKS” is a legal decision and does not violate any bilateral agreement. After the request of the United States of America and the European Union for the postponement of the deadline for this decision, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti set 21 April 2023 as the final deadline for the implementation of this law. Despite the disappointment expressed by the US and the EU, who requested a postponement until August 31, and accusations by Serbian officials of illegality, Kosovo’s decision is completely legal.
On November 1, 2022, Kosova government started issuing warnings to car drivers who drive, mainly in the north of Kosovo, with license plates other than the one with the acronym “RKS”. There are currently about 10,000 vehicles in circulation in this country considered illegal. The Government introduced a three-stage transition to the regular license plates for them that would take until 21 April 2023.
Initially, the decision of the Kosovo government provided that cars with license plates issued by the Serbian authorities, other than RKS, will not be able to cross the border or circulate in Kosovo after October 31. This deadline was opposed by the United States and the European Union, who asked Kosovo to postpone the implementation of the decision by 10 months.
Kurt postponed the decision for 6 months. This disappointed the American and European partners. But while for the United States of America, this is a legal action of Kosovo in accordance with the Brussels Agreement, for the European Union this is in violation of the 2016 agreement on freedom of movement, which is binding for both states, Kosovo and Serbia.
Even Serbia has reacted after Kurti’s decision to postpone the implementation of the decision to change car license plates until April 2023. The Minister of Defense of Serbia, Miloš Vučević, announced the deployment of the Serbian army on alert by an order of President Aleksandar Vučić, due to the situation in Kosovo.
The members of the Serbian community in the north of Kosovo have “fought” the decision of the Kosovo government, saying that they will not register their vehicles with RKS license plates. “We will listen to our country [Serbia] and our leaders, “ Nikola Vitorović, a citizen of North Mitrovica, told REL.
This repeated opposition of the citizens in the north of Kosovo, which started in the summer of this year when Kosovo decided to implement this initiative, has also been encouraged by Serbian officials such as the director of the office for Kosovo in the Serbian government, Petar Petkovic, who “applauded” non-registration of license plates by Kosovo Serbs.
Petkovic referred to Kosova’s decision on license plates as an “unlawful and violent” decision intended to “suppress” the existence of Serbs in Kosovo.
Agreements between Kosovo and Serbia on freedom of movement
“September 15, 2021 was the deadline for the conclusion of the agreement reached in Brussels and for the ban on the circulation of vehicles with license plates other than RKS license plates.” – this is how Prime Minister Albin Kurti began his statement in parliament, when he explained the decision of his government .
In fact, the initial agreement on freedom of movement between Pristina and Belgrade was reached in Brussels in 2011. Point 6 of this agreement states that the authorities in Kosovo will renew the validity of KS license plates for a period of five years, at the end of which the issue will be reviewed by both parties (with some EU facilitation if needed).
Five years later, on September 14, 2016, the parties again agreed in Brussels that “Kosovo will extend the validity of KS license plates for another five years” and that “the registration of vehicles with Kosovo license plates will begin in January 2017 and last 12 months.” Although the agreement foresees the review of the case by the parties at the end of the 5-year term, Kosovo and Serbia have not agreed on another agreement on license plates, as it appears from the documents published on the official website of the office for Kosovo and Metohija in the government of Serbia.
Registration of license plates in Kosovo did not start in January 2018, while the 5-year period of validity of “KS” license plates has already ended. Therefore, in the absence of another agreement between Kosovo and Serbia on this matter, the implementation of “Kurti” government decision cannot be called “unlawful”.
At the same time, taking into account that the 2016 agreement provided for a 12-month transition period for the implementation of “RKS” license plates, the time left by the Kosovo government – from the announcement of this decision to the parliament in September 2021, until the complete ban of license plates other than “RKS” on April 21, 2023 – exceeds the 12-month transition period.
*the image used in the article is taken from the web