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The CFSP in Action - Kosovo


When Milosovic finally accepted international involvement in Kosovo in 1999 under the weight of NATO bombing and the possible threat of a ground invasion, Kosovo was placed under international control through the United Nations (UNSC resolution 1244).  Security was provided by NATO forces (KFOR) and a UN Interim Administration (UNMIK) set up to administer the territory, organised in four “pillars”.  The EU assumed responsibility for the reconstruction and economic development pillar with the task of helping the civilian authorities in Kosovo to revive the economy and privatise the large number of businesses in state ownership.  The other pillars were police and justice under the UN, civil administration also under the UN and democratisation and institution building under the OSCE. 

Through its administration in Pristina, the EU helped with many aspects of Kosovo’s economy, from establishing a civil airport in the capital to creating the basic institutions capable of drawing up and administering Kosovo’s budget.  The privatisation programme started in earnest in 2005 with 18 waves of businesses being sold off; an important initiative to show that Kosovo welcomed international investment. 

Kosovo’s Independence

Despite this extensive international involvement in its internal affairs, Kosovo remained formally a part of Serbia, but with its 90% ethnic-Albanian population demanding an independence rejected by the Serbs it was a major cause of regional instability.  The UN asked the former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari to find a solution to the question of Kosovo’s future status and he reported to the UN Security Council in March 2007.  Mr Ahtissari said that independence for Kosovo was the “only viable solution” but he proposed that Kosovo be given independence under international supervision for an initial period. 

The EU endorsed the proposals put forward by Mr Ahtisaari in June 2007 - and called for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution on the plan “in a timely manner”.  The EU Planning Team in Kosovo was created in April 2006 to develop the capacity to assist Kosovo to deal with any change in its status following the Ahtisaari report.  The EU offered to “play a significant role” in the implementation of the Ahtisaari proposals.

The largest obstacle to agreement on a resolution at the UN was Russia’s refusal to accept any agreement unless it was supported by Serbia.  Conversely it was politically impossible for any Serbian politician to accept Kosovan independence when the Russians were not doing so.  The Russian objections were partly an unwillingness to be “bulldozed” (as they saw it) by an increasingly resented West, as well objecting to a precedent being set of part of a country allowed independence against the wishes of the remaining population.  Russia therefore called for talks between Serbia and Kosovo to continue until a compromise solution was found, even though no compromise was possible given the fundamental objections on the part of Serbia to Kosovo ceasing to be part of Serbia and the Kosovan demand for independence.

Although the partition of Kosovo between ethnic Albanians and the Serbians was suggested at various times, was never acceptable to all the parties at the same time and was not therefore a viable option.

The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Mr Agim Çeku, announced that if, following elections in November 2007, the deadlock over Kosovo’s future in the UN Security Council continued, Kosovo would be likely to unilaterally declare independence and seek recognition by the international community and particularly by the Member States of the EU. 

This is in fact what happened with Kosovo declaring independence on 17 February 2008, in a vote by the Kosovan Parliament boycotted by ethnic the Serbian minority’s MPs who boycotted the session.  Although there was some violence in the hours after the declaration, for the most part of Kosovo’s change of status did not provoke serious problems elsewhere in the Western Balkans or even Kosovo itself, although it did strengthen the de facto separation of ethnic-Serbian northern Kosovo bordering Serbia from the ethnic-Albanian bulk of Kosovo. 

The Kosovan Government was careful to follow the recommendations of the Ahtissari report in the implementation of independence.  This means that the international community still plays a significant part in internal Kosovan affairs.

The International Community in Kosovo

There are three elements to the international community’s involvement in Kosovo today:

  • the EU, working on civilian issues including the establishment of the rule of law;
  • the International Civilian Representative, who holds a position similar to that of the High Representative in Bosnia; this post is held concurrently by the EU’s Special Representative in Kosovo;
  • the NATO KFOR security force of 15,000 personnel.

In its declaration of independence, the Kosovan Parliament accepted the limitations on its independence proposed by Ahtissari.  This means a high level of protection for minorities in the Kosovan Constitution (agreed in June 2008), an undertaking that Kosovo will not become part of another country (eg Albania), that it would have only limited security forces of its own and that there would be international supervision of independence.

The EU’s largest single project in Kosovo is the EULEX rule of law mission, launched under the auspices of the European Security & Defence Policy with unanimous support from Member States despite the split over recognition.  The purpose of EULEX is to assist Kosovo in establishing the rule of law through effective and independent courts, police and customs services.  It is a large mission given the size of Kosovo – 3,000 people when it is fully deployed (of whom 1,100 will be locally employed).  The mission is largely advisory, helping the Kosovans to establish institutions that can deliver justice in an ethnically divided society but it has some limited executive responsibilities too. 

Following independence, KFOR and the United States are involved in the development of a new Kosovo Security Force that replaces the Kosovo Protection Force, a paramilitary body established after 1999 and mostly recruited from members of the Albanian majority’s Kosovo Liberation Army. 

Whilst Kosovo remains so deeply divided, and following the bloodshed of 2004 when there were violent attacks on Serbian residents and property that cost the lives of 19 people and led to the destruction of 35 Serbian orthodox churches and monasteries, the NATO-led KFOR remains necessary to ensure security (although the country has been largely peaceful since then).

Kosovo's future

There remain uncertainties about the future of Kosovo.  Although recognised by most EU Member States and the United States, Kosovo’s independence was not recognised by Greece, Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus and Romania.  More importantly, while Russia insists that it will veto any UN Security Resolution approving independence because of Serbian opposition, Kosovo’s status remains in some legal doubt.  For the EU and US, the separation of Kosov from Serbia is a unique case because of Milosovic’s near-genocidal treatment of the 90% majority ethnic-Albanian population; it does not therefore create a precedent in breach of the principles of territorial integrity and inviolability of frontiers.  The Russians have however used it to justify their military operation to detach Abhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia in August 2008.   

Serbia is now seeking a ruling from the International Court of Justice on the status of Kosovo having sought and obtained a resolution in support of this referral from the UN General Assembly in October 2008.

As with the rest of the Western Balkans, the EU’s intention – ever since the Thessaloniki European Council in 2003 - is that Kosovo should in due course become a member of the EU.  Given the difficulties over the divided status of Cyprus and the problems over corruption in Bulgaria and Romania, it is likely to be some years before current EU Member States feel confident enough to accept Kosovo as a full member, even if the question of the legality of Kosovo’s independence can be resolved. 

The EU will, nonetheless, continue to play a major part in the process of turning Kosovo into a viable state, governed under the rule of law and with a stable security situation. 

October 2006; revised March 2009 

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