´Kosovo’s Fragile Transition´, crisisgroup

Europe Report N°196
25 September 2008


Kosovo has taken first state-building steps, but the inter­national community has not met its commitments to provide adequate support. A rule-of-law mission (EULEX), the EU’s biggest ever European security and defence policy (ESDP) operation, was agreed in February 2008 but has only started to deploy. The International Civilian Office (ICO), projected to supervise independence, is a shell. The UN still functions in part as an interim administration, negotiating arrangements for Kosovo Serbs with Belgrade. The Ahtisaari plan, on the basis of which 47 states have recognised Kosovo, has been undermined by the international organisations meant to help implement it. The EU and U.S. are struggling to come to terms with Russia’s attempts to portray its support for breakaway regions in Georgia as a mirror image of what they did in Kosovo. Most urgent now is for the EU to make EULEX fully operational before year’s end and use its leverage with a Belgrade government that wants membership to begin to make pragmatic accommodations to Kosovo’s new status.

Major violence has been avoided, €1.2 billion in aid pledged and the first tentative measures to produce effective statehood taken. But the calm surface is deceptive. Divisions between Albanian and Serb areas have widened, and prospects for a unitary state are evaporating. If a de facto partition hardens, the future of the two thirds of Kosovo’s Serbs who live south of the River Ibar division line will be problematic, pressure to redraw borders on ethnic lines throughout the former Yugoslavia will mount, and perspectives for EU membership for countries in the region will further dim.

Serb defiance has entrenched north of the Ibar, where Kosovo courts, border and customs posts do not operate, and Kosovo Serbs continue to refuse to cooperate with Kosovo institutions or the EU. On 11 May Serbia held elections in Kosovo that introduced new municipal authorities in Serb areas, against the explicit instructions of the UN Special Representative. Pristina reacted with restraint, expecting the EU to roll back the developments, but its expectations are too high.

EULEX has only a quarter of its planned 2,000 international staffers on the ground. Unwilling to face hostility in Serb areas, it has kept a low profile throughout Kosovo to avoid contributing to a geographic division of international operations. The EU and UN may have greater success brokering compromises with Belgrade’s new, more EU-friendly government, but Kosovo Serb leaders are close to Serbia’s now opposition DSS and Radical parties, and President Tadic has limited room for manoeuvre.

After months of indecision, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced in June the start of the UN Mission in Kosovo’s (UNMIK) reconfiguration, opening the way for a handover of UN assets and premises. On 23 July discussions began between UNMIK and Belgrade on six areas of governance in Serb areas of Kosovo, including police, courts and customs. The UN is somewhat optimistic about the talks, but there has already been too much delay. Now that UN/EU reconfiguration technicalities were agreed on 18 August, the EU needs to deploy fully into Kosovo and become operational by 1 December, start working in the north under the UN umbrella, and make Peter Feith, its special representative (EUSR), the authoritative international figure as ICO head.

The most sensitive area is north of the Ibar, where all sides should agree on transitional arrangements which would be reviewed no later than early 2010 when the International Civilian Representative’s (ICR) powers are up for evaluation. This would amount in effect to temporary suspension of the constitution in part of Kosovo’s territory, while EULEX works under a UN umbrella as an intermediary between Kosovo Serbs and Pristina; supports re-opening courts which would temporarily apply UNMIK law; continues UNMIK’s policing model there; and oversees administration of customs without Kosovo symbols under a revenue-sharing arrangement between Pristina and the four northern municipalities that gives the latter an incentive to uphold the arrangements.

Since July Serbia has had a new government with conflicting priorities. President Tadic wishes to build upon the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) that the EU signed with him two weeks before the May election to make quick progress towards membership candidacy status and visa liberalisation. But his government, while softer in tone and more inclined to diplomatic methods than its predecessor, may be equally determined not to lose Kosovo. It wants
a UN rather than an EU presence in Serb areas of Kosovo, and has not adequately accepted, defined or controlled its southern border. It is pressing the UN General Assembly to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legality of Pristina’s independence declaration. The contradictions are ultimately untenable. Belgrade and Brussels must address Kosovo soon if they are serious about Serbia’s EU prospects. In those talks, the EU should make strategic use of Serbia’s accession process to secure deployment of its field missions Kosovo-wide and prepare Serbia to accommodate itself to, if not formally recognise, its former territory’s new status.

Kosovo is proving to be a difficult test for EU security and defence policy. The political will mustered before the February joint decision on the deployment of EULEX and a EUSR is dissipating. At a time when the EU is engaged in tough talks with Russia about the deployment of a new ESDP mission to Georgia, it would be dangerous to show lack of resolve so close to home.

The effects are not yet clear on Kosovo of recent events in Georgia, where Russia has cited western actions in Kosovo as part of its justification for unilaterally recognising the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent. Moscow may be more ready than ever to demonstrate its blocking capacities in the UN and tempted to encourage territorial fragmentation in the EU’s backyard; or it may be more ready to show its cooperative side after having demonstrated its new and troubling self-confidence. There is more need than ever for the EU to muster a strong foreign and security policy in its immediate neighbourhood.


To European Union Member States:

1.  Deploy EULEX fully no later than 1 December.

2.  Give the International Civilian Representative/EU Special Representative (ICR/EUSR) full political support, without distinguishing between the two roles.

3.  Reaffirm commitment to implementation of the Ahtisaari plan’s comprehensive proposal for Kosovo.

4.  Insist that Kosovo is high on the agenda when discussing next steps with Serbia following the signature of the SAA.

To the UN Secretariat and UNMIK:

5.  Press in reconfiguration talks with Serbia for Kosovo-wide deployment of EULEX and bring EU representatives into the talks at the earliest opportunity.

6.  Reduce UNMIK further, after its 70 per cent staff cutback planned for November 2008, to a small reporting, monitoring and liaison presence of less than 100 staffers by early 2009.

7.  Offer Serbia only such compromises in the talks on special arrangements concerning Kosovo Serbs as are consistent with the mandate of the ICR/EUSR, contribute to EULEX deployment and provide practical interim solutions to be reviewed no later than in early 2010, and seek in particular to:

(a) replace the UNMIK Mitrovica regional police commander with one from EULEX, while offering Serb members of the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) in Serb-majority areas south of the Ibar a consultative structure of EULEX officers as an optional interface with their regional and Pristina KPS chain of command;

(b) re-open courts north of the Ibar with EULEX judges and prosecutors alongside local judiciary and applying UNMIK law; and

(c) arrange that EULEX oversees administration of commercial traffic through the two northern gates, with customs clearing depots set back from the border, and sharing of custom revenues according to an agreed formula between the Kosovo budget and the four municipalities north of the Ibar.

To the Government of Kosovo:

8.  Build and maintain state and public institutions as accountable, professional, impartial bodies independent of political party patronage and control.

9.  Accommodate one-year transitional arrangements for police, courts and customs in Serb-majority areas as outlined above.

10.  Engage with Kosovo Serbs on the design and implementation of decentralisation provisions.

To the Government of Serbia and Kosovo Serb Representatives:

11.  Meet with the ICR/EUSR, EULEX and other EU representatives to arrange the full operationality of the two missions and secure Kosovo Serb acceptance of them.

12.  Accept the transitional arrangements recommended above.

13.  Accept the Ahtisaari plan’s decentralisation provisions as “status neutral” and work with Pristina-based counterparts to secure their benefits for Kosovo Serbs.


14.  Finalise the four technical agreements on KFOR cooperation with EULEX and offer strong support to that EU mission, in particular protection for its deployment and operations north of the Ibar.

15.  Fully deploy the Military Civilian Advice (MCA) training team and fund and equip creation of the Kosovo Security Force.

Pristina/Brussels, 25 September 2008