Monday, July 25, 2005

Local Government Reform Launched in Kosovo

The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has approved new legislation on reform of local government, a step that is vital if Kosovo is be certified as meeting the standards necessary for talks on its final status to start. The new local government system will be piloted in five areas - of which two are Kosovo-Serb enclaves - before being gradually extended to the rest of Kosovo. The new local governments will have powers in the field of housing, hospitals and schools, among other things. There will - at least initially - be no elections to the provisional assemblies in the new units, however; they will be selected by the Ministry of Local Government, taking into account the views of residents, and approved by UNMIK head, Soeren-Jessen Petersen.

Significance: A significant amount of faith is being placed in the increased powers of local governments as a way of bringing a more peaceful Kosovo, and the trial schemes will be closely watched. The plans do not tally with the suggestions put forward by the Serbian government, however - which consisted essentially of autonomy for local governments within a Kosovo that would be an autonomous part of Serbia - and there is still much resistance to Serbs taking part in Kosovo institutions. However, those Serbs who live in enclaves and their leaders, as opposed to those in the more solidly Serb areas north of the Ibar river, are much more in favour of co-operation with the Kosovo authorities. Disagreements over the boundaries of the new municipalities, among other things, may yet cause problems with their implementation.

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