EU ministers to avoid Kosovo question amid ongoing disunity

Published on April 19, 2007, EU Observer

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

19.04.2007 - 09:28 CET | By Ekrem Krasniqi and Renata Goldirova

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Ongoing EU disunity over Kosovo has knocked the Balkan topic off the agenda of an EU foreign ministers' gathering next Monday (23 April), putting EU foreign policy chiefs in an awkward position when they meet with Russian diplomats later the same day.

"Western Balkans is taken off the agenda, because since Bremen no new developments have happened. It will be on the [EU foreign ministers'] agenda in May," a German EU presidency official said on Wednesday (18 April), referring to an earlier EU ministerial in the German port town.

The Bremen meeting in late March saw Slovakia, Romania and Greece raise serious objections to EU endorsement of UN proposals for "supervised independence" for Kosovo, with Spain, Italy and Cyprus also voicing reservations on the Balkan blueprint.

The EU malcontents are mostly countries which lie geographically close to Serbia and fear potential instability or which face separatist movements of their own and are wary of creating a precedent.

The Bremen disagreement meant the EU joint statement issued after the March meeting was only able to praise the efforts of UN envoy Marti Ahtisaari, who proposed the Kosovo solution, not the substance of his plan on independence.

Appeals for EU unity from Germany, the US and UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon since then have not persuaded the splinter group to drop its objections, with Slovak foreign minister Jan Kubis voicing annoyance over political pressure.

"Our EU partners see Slovakia's position as...[contributing] to the feeling that unity has been disrupted. I have recognised this signal and I must say it does not make me happy to hear such evaluations not only from the EU, but also from other UN security council members," Mr Kubis told Slovak media this week.

What to say to Lavrov?

The situation means that when German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and EU top diplomat Javier Solana sit down with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Luxembourg on Monday evening they will not be able to say that 27 EU states back the Ahtisaari plan, EU diplomatic sources told EUobserver.

"For the EU, the same applies as what happened in Bremen," a German official answered, when asked what Berlin will say at the EU-Russia meeting, with Russia backing Serbia in opposing the move toward Kosovo sovereignty and seeking to scrap the Ahtisaari plan.

The Ahtisaari blueprint envisages a new UN security council resolution removing guarantees of Serbia's territorial integrity and allowing Pristina to have its own army and a seat at the UN or EU, following an interim period of EU and NATO supervision.

Speaking to Congress this week, the US' number three man on foreign affairs, R. Nicholas Burns, explained what the Ahtisaari plan means in practice.

"We expect that Kosovo's leaders will subsequently declare their independence. The US and other countries will then recognize the new state," he said. "The United States, NATO, and the EU have invested enormous political, economic and military resources in Kosovo and the region - we have the most significant equities at stake and therefore are most committed to seeing this process through."

"This is an aggressive and destructive stance, and it is an instance of a psychological attack on the UN security council," Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said after Mr Burns' speech, Russian media reports.

May target slipping away

The EU split, as well as Russia and Serbia's call to re-negotiate the Ahtisaari blueprint, could delay a US deadline to get the fresh UN resolution by late May, with a Russian-orchestrated UN fact-finding mission set to visit the Balkan region next week to prepare a report on Serb rights.

Meanwhile, tension continues to mount in Kosovo which has seen a string of grenade and bomb explosions in recent weeks. The unidentified bombers have not caused serious injuries, destroying cafes or UN vehicles, but the incidents serve as a reminder of the risk of return to the bloodshed of the 1990s.

Kosovo is a 90 percent majority ethnic Albanian province in southern Serbia, which is also home to over 100,000 ethnic Serbs and several Serb holy sites. It was placed under UN and NATO supervision in 1999 after a brutal Serb crackdown on the ethnic Albanian population.

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