The latest kerfuffle about ending the Special Chambers – which elicited strong negative reaction from both the EU and US – is just one indication that Kosovo is not ready to be on its own yet. But many other reasons exist to expect that EULEX will remain, even as it again downsizes slightly to lessen its footprint.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
Just before Christmas, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci publicly called on the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) to leave after the end of its current mandate in June 2018. The Pristina government would have us believe that Kosovo is now ready to stand on its own as a self-policing, law abiding independent country. But actually, there is little likelihood that the EU will abandon its oversight of Kosovo in this area. Thaci is smart enough to realize this so must be supposed to be speaking more for domestic politics than to the foreigners upon whom he – and Kosovo – still depend.
The latest kerfuffle about ending the Special Chambers – which elicited strong negative reaction from both the EU and US – is just one indication that Kosovo is not ready to be on its own yet. But many other reasons exist to expect that EULEX will remain, even as it again downsizes slightly to lessen its footprint. The first is that the EU mandate for rule of law actually is on loan from the United Nations, which passed it to EULEX in 2008 (without a UN Security Council vote). The EU might decide to surrender the mandate but it would then revert back to the UN and presumably to UNMIK. Neither the EU (and US) nor Thaci are likely to think that passing the mandate back to UNMIK would be a good thing for their interests. It also remains unlikely that the UNSC will vote to remove or change UNSCR 1244 which still defines the international community’s responsibility for Kosovo.
Within the EU itself, it would be remarkable if all its members agreed to free Kosovo from its oversight. Might Spain accept any further unilateral developments for Serbia’s break-away province while in turmoil over Catalonia? Would Kosovo’s neighbors near and far want to leave it as an unmonitored criminal or terrorist haven in the middle of the Balkans? Indeed, in response to Thaci’s comments, the EULEX Mission publicly reaffirmed that the EU would make the decision on its future.
The biggest reason that the EU cannot abandon its rule of law role in Kosovo is the still unresolved matter of status. The internationals have not yet finished the job they started in 1999. A majority of the world’s countries now recognize Kosovo but many still do not, including important members of the UNSC and EU. Kosovo remains outside the UN. More to the point, Serbia (with support from Russia) has yet to agree to the formal loss of Kosovo. Since 2008, Brussels has become the mediator in talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Some progress has been made since the EU abandoned its effort to simply bully the northern Serbs into accepting Pristina’s rule. But the EU needs to retain its leverage to finally push the two sides into an accommodation. On the Serbia side, the prospect of EU membership only really comes into play with Belgrade in the end game, in exchange for some form of recognition of Kosovo and the lifting of the Russian veto over repealing 1244. In order to get that far, Brussels will have to settle the status of the north, the residual Serbs in the south and of property taken by the Kosovo Albanians. Partition and compensation remain the most logical outcomes but the US and EU remain hesitant to push the fractious Albanians into accepting this. The continued EU rule of law mission remains necessary as leverage on Pristina as well to continue to govern its behavior vis-a-vis the remaining Kosovo Serbs.
The EU has big problems on its hands, the unexpectedly weakened Chancellor Merkel, Brexit, Spain vs. Catalonia, the rise of the neo-fascists, the continued refugee flow, the still unresolved name for FYROM, and, last but not least, positioning itself between Putin’s Russia and the unhinged US administration. Finally settling the Kosovo status issue may not rise to the top of this mix. So, meanwhile, far better and easier to just let EULEX spin in its space just as UNMIK has been left to spin in its. After all, there is no special reason to beat the clock until maybe 2019, when everyone can then celebrate the 20 year “anniversary” of the original intervention.
Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He has a PhD in political science, taught at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Arkansas, George Washington University and Drake University and now works as an independent consultant.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.