Escalation in Northern Kosovo: Causes, Dangers and Prospects
Escalation in Northern Kosovo: Causes, Dangers and Prospects
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 4 minutes

Eyes on the Ball

Kosovo has been largely peaceful and stable since declaring independence on 17 February 2008, but the outside world has not provided adequate support to guarantee peace and security and ensure that any attempts to partition the country are pushed back.
Just how we got here has been a convoluted process. The international community was supposed to supervise independence based on the "Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement" drafted by Martti Ahtisaari, the UN Secretary-General's special representative. Although the plan was never approved by the Security Council, it still offers the best blueprint for a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo, and to its credit, the Kosovo government has committed to implementing the proposal, which deals with such challenges as decentralization, minority rights, the security sector, and the future role of the international community.
The International Civilian Office (ICO) and the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) were supposed to help Kosovo in this effort, but unfortunately are handicapped by the lack of Security Council support for the plan and Serbian aversion to it. For Belgrade the plan's only true aim is to break up Serbia; for Pristina it is a straightjacket that limits their independence and requires them to give furtherguarantees to Kosovo Serbs and other minorities.
Although major violence has been avoided, €1.2 billion in aid has been pledged, and initial steps to build effective statehood have been taken, this apparent stability is deceptive. Divisions between Kosovo government and Serb-controlled areas have widened, and prospects for a unitary state are being undermined. Kosovo Serbs have walked out of institutions - including the police, courts, and customs - where they used to work side by side with Kosovo Albanians. They claim they can no longer have anything to do with institutions run by Pristina.
The UN mission to Kosovo is a shadow of its former self, having lost most of its legitimacy among Kosovo Albanians, and having been stripped of most of its pre-independence executive functions. The security sector, rule-of-law institutions and customs service are fragile and in need of the monitoring, capacity building and support, which EULEX and the ICO are meant to provide. Kosovo remains deeply divided between Albanians and Serbs, above all north and south of the Ibar River.
Kosovo Serbs also generally refuse to cooperate with EULEX, mandated in February, and supposed to become the EU's biggest ever European security and defense mission. Today, it has only one quarter of its planned 2,000 international staff on the ground and has kept a low profile, especially in Serb areas, to avoid contributing to a geographic division of international operations. The UN is still running the Kosovo administration in some areas. Kosovo Serbs refuse to answer to anyone but the UN and Belgrade. EULEX is seen as supporting Kosovo state building.
EULEX's deployment was also hampered by  disagreements between itself and the UN on the handover of assets. Even though the EU and UN had agreed that the UN would close its mission and transfer assets and premises to the EU, it did not begin doing so until after a UN-EU technical agreement of 18 August, which followed the announcement of the reconfiguration of the UN mission by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June. Until then, the Secretary General had preferred to delay because of Russian opposition to any reconfiguration without a new UN Security Council resolution.
On 23 July, the UN mission and Belgrade also began discussions on cooperation in six areas of governance in Serb areas of Kosovo, including police, courts and customs. The UN is cautiously optimistic about the talks, but no firm agreements have yet been signed. The UN is also acutely aware that the Kosovo government would reject any agreement that it considered offered too many concessions to Belgrade. The EU is not participating directly in the talks, even though the EULEX mission is supposed to take up tasks related to policing, justice and rule of law Kosovo wide.
Pristina has largely accepted the hold-up, but is still expecting that the EU will assist it regain control of Kosovo-Serb areas, especially north of the Ibar. Kosovo is and will be a difficult test for EU security and defense policy. The political will achieved before the February joint decision on the deployment of EULEX is dissipating, and the EU's lack of resolve could prove to be dangerous for Kosovo's future as a unified country.
Serbia's position includes some tangled contradictions. The new government is eager to move toward EU membership, but it does not want an EU presence in Kosovo. And Belgrade trusts the UN to defend Serb interests in Kosovo, not EU.

The EU should not lose this opportunity to show that it can be effective in its immediate neighborhood of the western Balkans. To move forward, it should work with Belgrade and keep Kosovo high on the agenda when discussing its next steps following the signature of the Stabilization and Association Agreement and as Serbia move towards EU membership. The EU should be included in UN-Belgrade talks on the six areas of cooperation as soon as possible, to agree on transitional arrangements, to be reviewed by early 2010. It should also fully deploy in Kosovo no later than 1 December.

The EU must also provide full political support for the International Civilian Representative/EU Special Representative, without distinguishing between the two roles; reaffirm its commitment to implementation of the Ahtisaari plan's comprehensive proposal for Kosovo; and insist that Kosovo is high on the agenda when discussing next steps with Serbia. To show any lack of resolve will only open up space for potential spoilers.
Now, more than ever, the EU must unite under a strong foreign and security policy in its immediate neighborhood.

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