International Herald Tribune, France
Dec 5 2007

EU prepares ground to decide Kosovo fate

By Paul Taylor ReutersPublished: January 4, 2008

BRUSSELS: Brick by brick, the European Union appears to be building
up its own legitimacy to determine Kosovo's final status if Russia
blocks agreement on the breakaway Serbian province at the United

In a series of statements, the EU's Portuguese presidency and its
foreign policy and enlargement chiefs have declared that Kosovo is a
European question, that its future lies in the EU and that the
Europeans will have to manage the outcome.

"Kosovo's status is fundamentally a European issue," EU Enlargement
Commissioner Olli Rehn told Reuters in an interview this month. "We
trust that other parties such the United States and Russia will avoid
unilateral actions."

Kosovo's two million ethnic Albanians are demanding independence,
while Serbia has offered broad autonomy.

EU officials insist their preferred option is a negotiated solution
between the Belgrade government and Kosovo's Albanian leaders, backed
by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

The province has been in legal limbo under U.N. rule since NATO
waged an air war in 1999 to force a Serbian withdrawal.

A troika of international mediators led by German diplomat Wolfgang
Ischinger is trying to broker a deal by Dec. 10.

But the chances of a consensual outcome are slim and the EU is
preparing for a situation in which there is no deal and the Security
Council remains deadlocked.

Moscow's threat to veto any resolution granting Kosovo independence
without Serbia's consent, and Washington's pledge to recognise a
unilateral declaration of independence by the Kosovo Albanians puts
the Europeans on the spot.

"I cannot conceive that we could have at the end a situation where
there is a strong position of Russia, a strong position of the United
States, and where Europe simply does not exist," Portuguese Foreign
Minister Luis Amado said on Sept. 8.

"This is a European territory. It's not in Asia or Latin America," EU
foreign policy chief Javier Solana said.

EU officials note that Brussels has paid for the last 8 years of
limbo, European troops already make up the bulk of the NATO-led
peacekeeping force in Kosovo, and the EU is due to take over
supervision and running the police from the United Nations.

The EU would also bear the brunt of managing a potential wider Balkan
crisis if Kosovo erupts into violence, they say.

But diplomats and analysts say there are legal, political and
practical problems with trying to make the EU an alternative source
of legitimacy for Kosovo's final status.

The legal issue is the precedent of recognising a state's
independence without the backing of the U.N. Security Council, the
acknowledged authority in the international community.

Moscow has warned that could become a model for breakaway areas of
Georgia and Moldova or for the Armenian-occupied territory of
Nagorno-Karabakh inside Azerbaijan.

NATO launched its air campaign against the former Yugoslavia in 1999
without U.N. blessing because of Russian opposition, but founding a
state without such authority poses longer-term legal headaches than
waging a military operation for a few weeks.

"While people acknowledge that this is what NATO did in 1999,
stomachs would be a little too weak at this moment for the EU to do
the same thing," a European military source said.

Kosovo could not become a member of the United Nations without the
consent of Russia or Serbia, nor access sorely needed credit from
international financial institutions.

The political problem is that EU member states do not yet agree on
recognising Kosovo's sovereignty.

Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Greece, Cyprus and to a lesser extent
Spain, all have reservations about such a move because of ethnic
minorities or separatist movements at home.

EU officials say the mood at a two-day brainstorming session of the
bloc's foreign ministers in Portugal this month was one of
determination to put European unity above national qualms. But that
does not guarantee agreement in December.

Practical problems include how to maintain the NATO force and get an
EU administrative and police presence into place without a Security
Council resolution, and how to prevent the northern part of Kosovo,
populated by ethnic Serbs, seceding.

The European military source said the Europeans would likely need
some sort of U.N. cover, possibly a permissive statement by
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to take over on the ground.