EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana today brokered a deal between Serbia and Montenegro on the future shape of the Yugoslav Federation. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports the newly signed arrangement represents a new basis of relations between Serbia and Montenegro, but leaves open the possibility of a referendum on separation in three years.
Prague, 14 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The agreement on a new constitutional system for a common state of Serbia and Montenegro is, in the words of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, a "completely new, unconventional, and permanent solution."
The name of the new state is "Serbia and Montenegro." The term Yugoslavia, introduced in 1927 to replace the then nine-year-old Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, thus joins that and other extinct state names like Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in the dustbin of history.
The deal puts an end for the time being to Montenegrin aspirations of independence. However, the text of the document states that Serbia and Montenegro have the right to hold referenda on their state status three years from now and can opt to secede.
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic noted that possibility in comments to reporters in Belgrade after today's signing.
"Finally, this agreement in no way threatens the basic right of every state and every nation -- and that includes Serbia and Montenegro -- to review its position after a certain period and to ask its citizens about the future of the state."
The document says that if Montenegro were to withdraw from the common state, international documents referring to Yugoslavia -- including UN Security Council resolution 1244 to establish Kosovo as a UN protectorate -- would solely concern Serbia as the successor state. Kosovar Albanian legal experts say that would automatically result in Kosovo becoming independent, though the UN administration says it has a monopoly of power in determining Kosovo's status.
The deal was negotiated and signed by Kostunica, Djukanovic, EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, his deputy Miroljub Labus, and Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic.
The final obstacles to an agreement were economic issues -- customs and currency. Serbian representatives insisted on a single, unified economic system. However, Montenegro, where the euro is the official currency, refused to consider returning to the weak Yugoslav dinar.
The governor of Yugoslavia's central bank, Mladan Dinkic, last night complained that Montenegro is playing a "very tough" game by demanding its own currency, customs, and banking systems, all of which he says mean there would not be a common market between the two republics. The result, he says, would be "a fictitious union which in fact would not have the most basic elements of a common state."
But this actually appears to be what the two sides have now agreed on. The agreement calls for the free flow of people, goods, services, and capital between the two republics. But policymaking concerning market and customs affairs will remain in the hands of the republics. Although there will be a common market, at least on paper, no provision has been made for a common currency.
Certain common institutions will be established, including a single-chamber parliament, a president, a "council of ministers" or government, and a court. The council of ministers will have five departments -- external relations, defense, international economic relations, domestic economic relations, and the protection of human and minority rights.
A common army will be established according to a separate agreement. The army would be commanded by a supreme council consisting of three members -- the presidents of the common state and of the two republics -- who would make decisions on the basis of consensus. Recruits would serve on the territory of their home republic with the opportunity to serve in the other member republic at their request.
A special system of voting in parliament -- a policy, in effect, of "reverse discrimination" -- will be introduced to prevent Montenegro from being overruled by Serbia, which has a population 15 times larger than Montenegro's (10 million to 650,000).
The often dour Kostunica was all smiles after today's signing. He said the document "represents the basic principles of the redefinition of relations between Serbia and Montenegro." Kostunica also described it as "a political agreement" that "represents a framework of future relations between the two republics and also represents common principles and the shape of future, completely new relations between Serbia and Montenegro."
He added: "We are talking about a political agreement that will be sent for consideration to the parliaments of Serbia, Montenegro, and the Yugoslav Federation, which will give their respective opinions on the document. After that, the document will be transferred and become a legal document, a constitutional act, which will be called the Constitutional Charter [of Serbia and Montenegro]."
The parliaments have until the end of June to ratify the Constitutional Charter and they have until the end of December to make changes to their own constitutions or pass new ones to conform with the constitutional charter.
Following ratification of the charter, elections will be held in the autumn for the new joint parliament which would appoint a president and council of ministers. Mandates may be rotated between the two republics halfway through a minister's term in office. The two republics will also rotate ambassadorships to the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, and the Council of Europe. But they will have a common, single membership in international organizations.
Kostunica emphasized that the agreement marked a new beginning that emphasized no continuity with the previous regime.
"It is a new beginning, expressed in the very name of the state, which is borne by its constituent parts, by the nations of Serbia and Montenegro. And let me say in conclusion, that at a time when Europe is integrating and when the Balkans are threatened with disintegration, Serbia and Montenegro have moved along the road of integration and thereby are investing into the stability not only of the Balkans but also in stability and peace in Europe as well."
The EU's Solana was equally upbeat.
"For the European Union and for me, in particular, today is a very important day. It is a day on which we have together taken an important step forward for the stability of the region and for the stability of Europe."
Solana also suggested the new arrangement marks "the beginning of a new chapter" that he says will lead Serbs and Montenegrins to eventual membership in the European Union.
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic expressed hope that Montenegrins and Serbs will accept the deal.
"I am convinced and I sincerely hope that the political publics in Serbia and Montenegro will have a positive attitude toward the results of the current process and that the parliaments of Serbia and Montenegro will [ratify] the results."
Djukanovic assured his pro-reform, pro-independence constituency back in Montenegro that "all the results of economic reforms that Montenegro undertook in recent years have been preserved and respected" in the deal, and that Serbia must follow Montenegro's lead in introducing economic reforms.
The deal allows the constituent republics to consult with the EU in the event of difficulties concerning market and customs issues. The EU has pledged in the agreement to help achieve the goals stated in the document and will monitor the entire process.