Within the technical dialogue facilitated by the European Union, in December 2011, Kosovo and Serbia reached the Agreement on Integrated Border Management, known by the acronym IBM. The agreement regulates cross-border cooperation, including joint crossing points, regular communication between police authorities, customs and other agencies.
Reaching the agreement was made possible based on the legislation and best practices of the EU, as well as with the principle of “constructive ambiguity”. In the case of this agreement, the term “borders” within the concept of IBM, from one side is understood as a state border, while from the other side it is an administrative boundary. Furthermore, using the term “jurisdiction” instead of “sovereignty” has also contributed to reaching the agreement and applying the IBM concept in six crossing points between Kosovo and Serbia.
Until the utilisation of the IBM agreement, crossing from Kosovo to Serbia and vice-versa was done with a lot of complications, due to lack of communication between the authorities of the two sides. Very often, and especially during the summer, prolonged waiting lines were occurring and the authorities were not applying any mechanism to ease regular checking procedures. This could not happen because there was a lack of protocol cooperation, and this is exactly what was made possible with the upcoming agreement.
The full and immediate implementation of the agreement has had a remarkable impact in improving free movement of people and goods, as well as in enhancing the security of border control, based on the European standards and its best practices.
The agreement has directly impacted the border crossing by citizens, especially of the diaspora; the waiting time, which before the agreement could take hours, has progressively been reduced. One person from the diaspora, who for his summer vacations this year has crossed through Dheu i Bardhë border-crossing point, in only a few minutes, explains that, “in the past, waiting was long and tiring, and almost unbearable when the temperatures were high.” This was confirmed by a police officer, who said that, “Kosovo Police has made an appeal to the diaspora to also use other border-crossing points, as there are six of them with Serbia, where IBM is applied.”
The closure of the illegal crossing points in the northern part of Kosovo, enabled through this agreement, has impacted cooperation in fighting organised crime and human trafficking as well as the war against international trafficking of narcotics. Kosovo Customs spokesperson says that, “this year, and the year before, the cases of smuggling were the lowest in number. There were times when offenses identified in that area, were reaching up to 400 or 500 cases per year, and in the last two years, there is a noticeable decline of such cases; we had no more than forty such cases, where we have confiscated goods in attempts to be smuggled”.
The agreement also improved the till-then asymmetric export-import between Kosovo and Serbia; while in 2011, Kosovo exported in Serbia goods in the value of about eight million euros, this was doubled a year later and in the following years, whereas in 2016 it reached more than 46 million. The same occurred with the transport of Kosovo products through Serbia, wherein the beginning of implementing this agreement the value of Kosovo goods transported through Serbia was around 30 million euros, which in 2016 reached up to 120 million euros. A producer from Kosovo, transporting cement in Serbia since 2012, recalls that, “it was impossible to export for Serbia, especially through Jarinje border-crossing; even the police and customers were reaching it only by helicopters”, and concludes that this agreement has significantly supported his business.
As the intensity of the dialogue has been lower lately, and due to the mutual accusations for not fulfilling other agreements, the full implementation of this agreement has faced backlash. Still, the circulation between both sides continues to function. Bringing back the technical dialogue in its course and full implementation of the agreements reached so far must be the main objective for all sides involved, especially for Kosovo and Serbia together with the high-level dialogue on full normalisation of relations. The IBM agreement is the best proof that cooperation between the institutions of both sides is possible. As such, this agreement can be utilised also for other fields of cooperation.