EU moves closer towards unity on Kosovo

The European Union has moved a step closer towards unity on Kosovo, with diplomats and ministers suggesting that only Cyprus is resisting the bloc's alternative plan of a "coordinated" declaration of independence by the south Serbian province.

A meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday (10 December) acknowledged that international diplomatic efforts had failed to secure an agreement between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians on the future status of the break-away region.

This joint assessment of the situation came after EU, Russian and US negotiators reported to the UN's security council on the 10 December deadline that no deal had been reached.

Up until the last minute, some EU states had argued it was still for the two sides to reach a solution - a line still being repeated by Moscow.

According to diplomats, the EU is also ready to agree that the status quo in the region is unsustainable and could result in violence which the bloc should try to avoid.

What does 'coordinated' mean?

However, division still remains over what to do next. Cyprus, in particular, is worried that any move to recognize an independent Kosovo without a UN resolution would set a dangerous precedent that could inspire other separatist movements.

"All the other countries would have liked it [the adopted UN resolution] to be the case. But if that is not the case we will have to move forward on the basis of the UN security council resolution 1244," said Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt.

The 1244 resolution - adopted in 1999 - authorised international civil and military presence in Kosovo, then part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, placing it under interim UN administration.

Europe is trying to use the same resolution to authorise a partial shift of power from UN to EU authorities enabling them to provide an initial supervision of the soon-to be declared independent Kosovo.

Such an approach would be referred to as a "coordinated" statement of independence, as opposed to a unilateral step and would enable the EU - including other sceptical states such as Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Spain - to recognize the move.

Some technicalities remain to be solved, such as when to send the EU mission to the region, with some countries like Slovakia pushing for the earliest possible deployment as well as linking it closely to UN authorities which other states oppose.

But German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested on Monday that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana received the green light for starting preparations of the bloc's civil and justice administration for the region.

"I think that we are developing a process of convergence now and we very much hope that we will be able to get an EU common position in the near future," Luis Amado, foreign minister of Portugal's EU presidency told reporters after the ministerial session.

As part of its strategy, the EU is also trying to keep Serbia on board - both by trying to convince the Kosovar Albanians to proclaim independence only after Serbia's presidential elections early next year and by boosting its own ties with Belgrade more rapidly.

Bulgarian foreign minister Ivailo Kalfin indicated that some countries had suggested signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) - the first step towards EU membership - with Belgrade on 28 January provided Serbia has provided enough proof that it has done everything in its power to arrest war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic.

[Source: Lucia Kubosova, Euobserver, Brussels, 11dic07]

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The Question of Kosovo
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