Kosovo Countdown: A Blueprint for Transition
Kosovo Countdown: A Blueprint for Transition
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 188 / Europe & Central Asia

Kosovo Countdown: A Blueprint for Transition

Kosovo’s transition to the status of conditional, or supervised, independence has been greatly complicated by Russia’s firm support of Serbia’s refusal to accept that it has lost its one-time province.

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Executive Summary

Kosovo’s transition to the status of conditional, or supervised, independence has been greatly complicated by Russia’s firm support of Serbia’s refusal to accept that it has lost its one-time province. Recognition of conditional independence has broad international, and certainly European Union (EU) and American, support. Under threat of Moscow’s veto, the Security Council will not revoke its Resolution 1244 of 1999 that acknowledged Serbian sovereignty while setting up the UN Mission (UNMIK) to prepare Kosovo for self-government pending a political settlement on its future status. Nor will the Council be allowed to approve the plan for a conditionally independent Kosovo devised by the Secretary-General’s special representative, Martti Ahtisaari, earlier this year and authorise the EU-led missions meant to implement that plan.

While the Troika of U.S., EU and Russian diplomats explored the bleak prospects for Kosovo-Serbia agreement over the past several months, Brussels and Washington have also been able to use the time to devise ways to support Kosovo’s transition to conditional independence without needing the support of the Security Council. The EU now has a better sense of the need to maintain its unity and take primary responsibility for the crisis. But Kosovo and the wider Western Balkans have become less stable, and further delay would worsen matters: this is not a situation that can drift comfortably into “frozen conflict” status. Once the Contact Group reports the inevitable Troika failure to the UN Secretary-General on or about 10 December, the “Quint” – France, Germany, Italy, the UK and U.S. – should, despite Serbian and Russian opposition, promptly begin implementing a plan to orchestrate a peaceful transition culminating in Kosovo’s conditional independence in May 2008.

The situation on the ground risks overtaking capitals. Belgrade and hardline local leaders have pulled Serbs further away from the Albanian majority in Kosovo, encouraging their boycott of the 17 November 2007 elections. Clashes involving Albanian armed groups have occurred in northern Macedonia and tensions, encouraged by Serbia and Russia, have increased in Bosnia. It will take perhaps into January for the winners of the Kosovo elections to form their new government, which will be one prepared to work with Western supporters but not to accept another round of talks with Belgrade. It is apparent from the intensive efforts of the Troika, which provided the parties ample opportunity to explore every possible solution, that there is no chance for a negotiated agreement.

Accepting paralysis is not a viable option, however. It would lead to an uncoordinated, unsupervised, possibly violent independence process that could stimulate instability in Kosovo’s neighbour countries. It would also seriously damage both the UN’s prestige and the EU’s development as a major political actor on the global stage.

Much now depends on the dynamics between the EU and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The EU must say officially at the 14 December European Council of heads of state and government that it considers the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo to be over, that the Ahtisaari plan is the best way forward and that it is ready to deploy field missions (a rule-of-law mission under its European Security and Defence Policy, ESDP, and an International Civilian Office, ICO). Following that, the Secretary-General needs to make clear that he welcomes the EU pledge to create the new missions to further implement 1244. Thereafter, in early 2008, the EU should take the necessary action to deploy both missions.

The Secretary-General and Brussels have a degree of mutual dependence in this process. Without a clear and unequivocal message from the European Council meeting, Ban is unlikely to feel able to make any statement welcoming the EU missions. He cannot be expected to act against Russian pressure without certainty that the EU itself will be resolute. And without his help in giving at least some semblance of UN cover, the EU will be less likely to overcome last reservations and vote on actual mission deployment.

The U.S., UK and France will have to work hard in New York – and be prepared to accept some damage in their relations with Moscow – to ensure that the clear majority of the Security Council will lend support to such a course. It would be prudent to move quickly to obtain statements from the current membership in December, since most of the five new members who will rotate on to the Council in January 2008 will take a considerable time to familiarise themselves with the issues. The stage would then be set for the new Kosovo government in January to state its intention to declare independence on Ahtisaari plan terms in May, following a 120-day transition (also foreseen by Ahtisaari), and to invite the EU immediately to deploy the new missions, as well as NATO to keep its force (KFOR) there. The Quint and as many EU member states as possible would, following that statement of intention, pledge to recognise Kosovo’s independence promptly after the declaration in May 2008, provided it acts during the 120-day transition in conformity with the Ahtisaari plan.

Much else remains to be done. NATO, UNMIK and Kosovo institutions must agree on a security plan to ensure a peaceful transition. Pristina is behind in developing the laws necessary to implement the Ahtisaari plan. Considerable planning and liaison is required within the EU, between the Quint and Pristina, and between advance elements of the missions and Kosovo authorities to ensure that all know the post-independence division of responsibilities. The elected government and its institutions, not the missions, must be UNMIK’s primary successors, but those missions must be accepted to have the discretionary power to monitor and supervise as Ahtisaari envisaged even without a clear Security Council mandate. New joint commissions and procedures on the ground may be part of the formula.

Of course, even after a conditionally independent Kosovo is up and running, the international community will still need to help it and Serbia resolve their dispute in a manner that leads ultimately to the revocation of Resolution 1244, gains Kosovo UN membership and at last guarantees Western Balkan stability. In the immediate term, the EU will need to maintain consensus that the European Commission should help the new state get on its feet economically and travel the long road to EU membership. The West must keep pressures and incentives on Serbia to accept reality. That acceptance will take time. In the current political constellation in Belgrade, the prospect of EU membership is not alluring enough to produce a fundamental policy reversal. Nevertheless, if it is to retain its ability to resolve a latent conflict, the EU should not repeat its mistake with Cyprus and allow Serbia to join until it has squared relations with Pristina.

But the task of the moment is to make conditional independence operational, without further hesitation.

Pristina/Belgrade/New York/Brussels, 6 December 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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