Breaking the Kosovo Stalemate: Europe’s Responsibility
Breaking the Kosovo Stalemate: Europe’s Responsibility
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 185 / Europe & Central Asia

Breaking the Kosovo Stalemate: Europe’s Responsibility

The preferred strategy of the European Union (EU) and the U.S. to bring Kosovo to supervised independence through the United Nations Security Council has failed, following Russia’s declared intention to veto. With Kosovo Albanians increasingly restive and likely soon to declare unilateral independence in the absence of a credible alternative, Europe risks a new bloody and destabilising conflict.

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Executive Summary

The preferred strategy of the European Union (EU) and the U.S. to bring Kosovo to supervised independence through the United Nations Security Council has failed, following Russia’s declared intention to veto. With Kosovo Albanians increasingly restive and likely soon to declare unilateral independence in the absence of a credible alternative, Europe risks a new bloody and destabilising conflict. To avoid chaos on its doorstep, the EU and its member states must now accept the primary responsibility for bringing Kosovo to supervised independence.

The risks to Europe of inaction are substantial. Before the end of the year, Kosovo Albanian leaders will be under what is likely to be irresistible internal pressure to declare independence, with or without external support. If they act and are not supported, Kosovo would fracture: Serbia reclaiming the land pocket north of the Ibar River, Serbs elsewhere in Kosovo fleeing, and eight years of internationally guided institution-building lost. The implosion would destabilise neighbouring countries, increasing pressure for further fractures along ethnic lines. The EU would quickly experience refugee flows and feel the impact of the boost that disorder would give to organised crime networks in the Balkans that already distribute most of Europe’s heroin, facilitate illegal migration and are responsible for nearly 30 per cent of women victims of the sex trade worldwide.

Failure to act would also discredit the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and its efforts to project itself as a credible international actor in conflicts elsewhere. As its own official security strategy declares, “the credibility of our foreign policy depends on the consolidation of our achievements [in the Balkans]”.

The sooner the EU, or a significant majority of its member states, declares itself ready to back an independent Kosovo, the better the chances of forestalling such damage to the EU. The six-nation Contact Group (France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and U.S.) that has been guiding Kosovo policy has authorised a four-month period for new talks between Pristina and Belgrade. These started in the second week of August but, given entrenched positions, are highly unlikely to achieve a breakthrough. The EU members and the U.S. should ensure that they do not unravel the blueprint for Kosovo’s supervised independence crafted by the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, during a year of painstaking diplomacy (the Ahtisaari plan). They should also use the four months to secure an alliance that will coordinate Kosovo’s transition to independence.

The U.S. has considerable responsibilities, both to match its strong rhetoric on behalf of Kosovo independence with more consistent action toward that goal – President Bush signally failed to press Russian President Putin at their recent seaside summit in Kennebunkport – and to use its unparalleled influence with the Kosovo Albanians to keep them cooperative and constructive during the sensitive months ahead. But ultimately the EU is the key. The Ahtisaari plan foresees it sending a special representative with a large staff to coordinate civilian supervision of conditional independence and a rule of law mission, as well as providing through its membership candidacy processes the economic support and motivation that can ensure an independent Kosovo does not become a failed state. The EU has backed the Ahtisaari plan but a number of its members are sceptical about proceeding with it in the absence of a Security Council blessing. The EU members of the Contact Group need to do heavy lifting to prepare the organisation to meet its responsibilities.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has requested that the Contact Group report back to him on the Belgrade-Pristina talks in four months, by 10 December. This is the point at which, assuming, as seems overwhelmingly likely, that no agreed solution emerges from those talks, the EU, U.S. and NATO need to be ready to start coordinated action with the Kosovo government to implement the essence of the Ahtisaari plan, including the 120-day transition period it envisages. That transition period should be used to accumulate statements of recognition of the conditionally independent state from as many governments as possible; to adopt and set in place the state-forming legislation and related institutions foreseen by the Ahtisaari plan; for the Kosovo government (the present one or, depending on the date of elections, its successor) to invite the EU and NATO to take up their responsibilities and for those organisations to do so; and for the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to withdraw in an orderly fashion. At the end of this period – in April/May 2008 – Kosovo would be conditionally independent, under EU and NATO supervision.

Not all EU member states need to recognise Kosovo during the transition or even in April/May 2008. The EU has procedures – “constructive abstention” and “enhanced cooperation” – that allow decisions to be taken and action to be set in motion when unanimity is not available. What is vital is to get the EU missions into Kosovo (and to reform the NATO mission) in a timely fashion. If that minimum degree of EU unity is not possible, the U.S. and some major European states would have to try to reproduce the basic elements of the international supervision and protection missions out of their own resources.

How sustainable such an ad hoc effort would be by those making it, and how effective it could be in giving Kosovo the motivational prospect of eventual European integration it needs to flourish, would be questionable. What would not be in doubt is the huge damage the EU would inflict on itself by having so obviously failed to act as a coherent international player to meet a major security challenge on its borders.

Without UN Security Council cover for independence, Serbia will be even more reluctant to let go of Kosovo. The new state will be haunted for years by an unrevoked Security Council Resolution 1244, which in 1999, at the end of the conflict with NATO, acknowledged Serbia’s formal retention of sovereignty for the interim period over the province it turned over to the UN. Serbia will continue to claim that sovereignty and, with Russia, will try to block Kosovo’s membership in international institutions. Belgrade will challenge Pristina’s ownership of the Serb-majority north all the harder, and international authority to defend Kosovo’s territorial integrity will be the weaker. Russia may seek to use the outcome for its own purposes in the frozen conflicts in the South Caucasus and Moldova.

These are all undesirable consequences, and ones that could largely have been avoided if the Security Council had paved the way to Kosovo’s independence under the Ahtisaari plan. But the consequences of inaction by the EU will be worse – for Kosovo, the Balkans and the EU itself. It is time to recognise this and act.

Pristina/Belgrade/New York/Brussels, 21 August 2007

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.

In this conversation, we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue (Online Event, 28th January 2021)

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