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How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Briefing 45 / Europe & Central Asia

Kosovo’s Status: Difficult Months Ahead

There is growing concern that the short postponement UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari announced in November 2006 for presentation of his Kosovo final status proposals to take account of Serbia’s 21 January elections may not be the last delay in a process that now could extend into the second half of 2007.

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I. Overview

There is growing concern that the short postponement UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari announced in November 2006 for presentation of his Kosovo final status proposals to take account of Serbia’s 21 January elections may not be the last delay in a process that now could extend into the second half of 2007. Nervous Kosovo Albanian leaders worry they may not be able to contain public pressures beyond March. With Russia’s position hardening and Serbia as obstinate as ever, EU unity is vital – but far from assured – to keep the status process on track, first in the small Contact Group that has managed Kosovo affairs since 1999, then in the Security Council where ultimate decisions should be made.

A number of EU states are showing signs that they are reluctant to change Kosovo’s status in the face of continued Serbian opposition. If Brussels fails to coalesce quickly around a strong internal consensus, it risks inheriting a major new crisis. This is an urgent challenge especially for Germany, which assumes the six-month EU Presidency on 1 January. The U.S. strongly favours an early resolution of Kosovo’s status but it cannot bring one about in the face of increasingly specific threats from Moscow to use its Security Council veto without the EU doing its share of the heavy lifting.

As the international community hesitates, the Kosovo Albanian perception is that the hurdles ahead are becoming higher. “Nothing we do is good enough; any step we take is criticised”, one lamented. Ahtisaari has signalled clearly he intends to present comprehensive, unambiguous proposals shortly after the Serbian elections. The international community will need to give him strong support if matters are to move from there, however, because time is running out for Kosovo. Blame can partially be laid at the door of its majority Albanians, who have failed to make as much as they should with the limited governance opportunities they have been given and who are too quick to threaten chaos rather than work harder at easing the fears of the Serb minority. But it is a fact of life that the risk of implosion does become greater the deeper Kosovo goes into 2007 without its status settled.

A botched status process that fails to consolidate the prospect of a Kosovo state within its present borders and limits the support the EU and other multilateral bodies can provide would seed new destructive processes. A sense of grievance would become ingrained among Albanians throughout the region, strengthening a pan-Albanian ideology corrosive of existing borders and possibly even enriching the soil for radical Islam.

Some officials fear the international community may not be able to focus sufficient energy or will to resolve Kosovo status without a crisis on the ground. “Not making a decision is making a decision”, a diplomat at the UN observed. “If the situation on the ground seems stable, the Security Council would rather do nothing than something difficult”, another noted. A European official dealing with security bluntly described the attitude of not a few in the international community: “Let it rot, then we’ll see. The Kosovo solution will rely on a big mess or violence in March”.

This must be proved wrong. The international community must deliver upon its promises, implied and explicit. Specifically:

  • The Contact Group should not permit delay in Ahtisaari’s proposals after 21 January 2007 and should not water them down. It should refer them quickly to the UN for Security Council consideration.
     
  • The EU Council should give its preparations and requirements for assuming post-status responsibilities in Kosovo more prominence, both for European public opinion and the Security Council. The incoming German Presidency should make uniting member states behind the Ahtisaari proposals a top priority.
     
  • The Security Council should act promptly and positively when it receives Ahtisaari’s proposals, recognising that delay would likely mean a return of Kosovo to its agenda soon in crisis circumstances.
     
  • Kosovo institutions should strengthen good governance so as to gain more legitimacy with their public and be prepared to exercise new responsibilities effectively once status is resolved.
     
  • Serbia should be encouraged to engage with the Kosovo independence project and extract the maximum benefit for its own long-term interests and those of the Kosovo Serb minority but be left in no doubt that it does not have a veto over the international community’s status decision.

 

Pristina/Brussels, 20 December 2006

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)